The fact that the U.S. government is not about to abandon the BlackBerry as its smartphone of choice is a bit of good news for Research In Motion, a company that hasn’t had much to cheer about lately. But it is unlikely to help much in the long run, let alone provide salvation for RIM.
RIM got a giant leg up in the government market by building security deep into the design of both BlackBerry handsets and the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). For a long time it was the only mobile messaging device with Federal Information Processing Standard certification to handle “sensitive” government information, the highest level for unclassified data. But as in other areas, the competition hasn’t been standing still. Apple has been working hard at upgrading iOS security and is awaiting native FIPS approval for the iPhone and iPad. Good Technology offers FIPS-certified messaging systems that provide BES-like services to iOS devices, Android, and Windows Phone. The National Security Agency has developed a secure version of Android for federal sector use.
The government will be sticking with BlackBerry because it already owns many thousands of them. Money is always tight, and the feds tend to hang on to hardware for as long as they can. But I don’t see much evidence that the government is buying a lot of new BlackBerrys. And a quick perusal of FedBizOpps.gov shows lots of solicitations for Android and iOS software development projects, an ill omen for RIM.
The federal government is more successful than the private sector at resisting bring-your-own-device initiatives–not even the most senior officials can defy security rules and Federal Acquisition Regulations–and it remains a very conservative buyer. But over time, I expect to see it shift its emphasis away from BlackBerrys. RIM will continue to collect monthly fees for BES services, but the RIM’s days os the fed’s darling seem numbered.