An interview with Matt Harris, IT Director at Mercedes AMG Petronas

BlackBerry has refocused its efforts on business customers looking to be able to manage mobility within the context of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). How well have they done? Very well, if you believe Matt Harris, the IT Director with Mercedes AMG Petronas. I was able to get a few minutes from Harris’ tight schedule to interview him about BlackBerry and his mobile strategy.

For those who don’t know the company, Mercedes AMG Petronas is responsible for the Mercedes-Benz motorsport program. Its Executive Director, Christian ‘Toto’ Wolf is a former amateur driver who left driving to found an investment company (Marchfifteen) and later to take over as head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport.

The first question I asked Matt Harris was why he had stuck with BlackBerry through all of the ups and downs of recent years. His answer was immediate. He didn’t feel like he was “stuck” with BlackBerry at all. While he is a realist – no platform or device is perfect, Matt has felt extremely well served by both the BlackBerry handset and the BES services for management of all of his mobile devices – both BlackBerry and non-BlackBerry.

Security

Why? Well as he stated, “Security was one of the basic reasons.”

One key issue for Harris was lost devices. As one might expect from a company that races cars, the team travels extensively. “Users leave their devices in hotels – our biggest problem besides breaking them,” noted Harris. He also noted that the number of broken devices didn’t stem from any fault of the BlackBerry devices. Apparently his users are quite creative in their methods of breaking devices.   My personal favourite was his story about the employee who couldn’t figure out why his airline seat wouldn’t recline until he found the bent PassPort device that he had somehow wedged into the workings of the seat.

When devices are lost, Matt noted that the BES platform makes it easy to wipe the handset. But he also appreciated the ability to help recover the device. It takes time to get a new device to a user in the field, so being able to locate the device is a feature he appreciates. Also, as Harris noted, “We can post a message saying that if you find the device, please call this number. There are still a few honest people who will help you recover a lost device.”

While he can ultimately wipe the device, recovery is still the best option, so in addition to posting the message, Harris noted that he appreciated being able to protect the device by “locking the screen and changing the PIN remotely. “

He also appreciated the ability to segregate business and personal data and enforce rules using BES. Users can’t expose a device with business information on it “because the policy coming from BES requires that they have a password and a PIN. So they can’t use any device for work without having a PIN and password that fits our policy.”

“BES Upgrade was a breeze…”

The company recently upgraded BES from version 5 to BES 10. You cannot support newer BlackBerry devices using version 10 of the BlackBerry operating system on the old BES 5 server. BES 10 is not backwards compatible. Fortunately, the new BES 10 allows management of both BES 5 and BES 10 through a unified console (for more information on this, there’s a great article on crackberry.com http://crackberry.com/clearing-confusion-bes-and-blackberry-10).

Despite this possible complexity, the upgrade “has quite frankly been a breeze,” said Harris. “Twenty-four hours before we showed it, we’d never seen the full BES. We had ten devices up and running in thirty-six hours. We’re 60% migrated at this point.”

What’s holding him back? They have quite a number of Playbooks in use and these won’t move up to the new BES 10.

Different devices…

“We have a range of devices, including some 9900s and 9300s, “ Harris noted. “We have a couple of iPhones and even some Androids. But most of the iOS or Android devices are tablets. I don’t support iPhones or Android phones. We’re a small team and there are only so many devices we want to support. We do support iPads and Android tablets, but for telephony, everyone pretty uses the BlackBerry handset.”

User reaction

I was curious if Harris got any pushback to his refusal to support anything other than BlackBerry, at least for the phones. He said that he didn’t experience much resistance. “Earlier, when we moved to the Z10 we were impressed, but over time saw some shortcomings. It simply wasn’t powerful enough for what BlackBerry was trying to do. The Z30 addressed those issues and since then, nobody is complaining. Three quarters of the company are on Z30’s.”

New BlackBerry Devices

Harris is gradually introducing the newer BlackBerry handsets, the Passport, Classic and even the new Leap (for those interested, I did a review of the Leap).


Harris loves the Passport but recognizes it’s not for everyone. “It’s like Marmite (a UK food spread with a unique taste) – people either love the Passport or hate it immediately.” I had noted the same reaction in my review of the Passport. People react immediately.

This split is noted in Harris’ own IT staff. Harris much prefers the Passport. “The screen on the Classic is too small. With the Passport you don’t have to take a tablet or laptop with you. You can create documents, excel, word and even Powerpoint – and show your presentations. This isn’t a novelty – it’s the way we work. “ In fact, Harris has installed 4k monitors with HDMI connections and employees regularly use these for presentations.

The head of the company, Christian “Toto” Wolff is also a fan of the Passport. While it has yet to replace his Mac entirely, Wolff appreciates the fact that he doesn’t have to take a laptop with him – he can do everything he needs to do on the Passport.

The only drawback to the Passport was that Harris felt a little “geeky” when using it for a phone call. However, Harris also noted that he liked the fact that people still stop him and ask him what it is. “Love it or hate it, people notice the Passport.”

Others in Harris’ staff preferred the Classic based on its smaller size. He’s just trying the Leap and had about 10 hours with it. It wasn’t his cup of tea as he prefers the physical keyboard. How other users react to it is still an open question.

Benefits of the Hub not always immediately apparent?

Harris noted that it took him some time to get his head around the benefits of the Hub – BlackBerry’s integration of all messaging.

For those who haven’t seen this, the Hub brings together every type of messaging – all email, all text, all social accounts as well as BlackBerry’s BBM into one integrated management utility. No more flipping around from app to app or mailbox to mailbox – you can see and manage all messages from one screen, or if you want you can just as easily drill down into a specific account. I’ve personally found it to be the easiest way to manage my own complex situation with multiple emails from different corporate entities, different social channels and my own addiction to text.

But Harris didn’t quite see this at first. “I really didn’t get it at first. But now it’s indispensible. Managing four different emails, social applications from WhatsApp to Twitter and even things like BBM Messaging and BBM Channels.”

BBM Meetings “saved the day”

One thing that made Harris an instant fan was BBM meetings. They are, in his words, “surprisingly good. BBM meetings got us out of trouble at one point. We needed to have a meeting and we tried the BBM meeting. It worked well, right out of the box.”

“Varied results” with Blend 
Harris noted that he’s had varied results with Blend. The problems, when they have occurred, have been due to their own internal policies. Some laptops accessing some internal applications have had problems. There have also been some special adjustments to handle IPV6. But Harris noted, “on an out of the box laptop, it works fine.”

Apps and integration 

Harris is quite satisfied with the number of and range of apps. He is a fan of Docs to Go and the ability to really handle MS Office documents. In social apps they use all the major social applications. For their own internal systems, they have built in some integration, mostly with SharePoint and SAP, which they use mostly for sign-offs.

Solid Performance

BlackBerry introduced me to Matt Harris, so I wasn’t surprised that he would be favourable to the BlackBerry devices or to the new BES 10 platform. Overall, Harris seems to be a “straight shooter”. I got the impression that everything he said was solid information, at least in his opinion.

Personally, I was most impressed at the efficiency that he had experienced – the quick upgrade and the ease of management of remote users. If we are going to make Mobile Device Management (MDM) successful we need systems that are easy to implement and manage.

His lack of pushback on the BlackBerry devices belies the idea that you have to have IOS or Android phones to keep your user base happy.  That is interesting and not what I expect. The fact that he allows any kind of tablet may be one of the reasons that he’s able to make this work with so little resistance. Or perhaps its the fact that his own senior management are actively using and apparently liking their BlackBerry experience.

I’ve had my own challenges with Blend so that was no surprise either. It has great promise if it can work smoothly and seamlessly, but like Harris, I’m still trying to get it to work smoothly for me.

If Harris’ overall experience is anything to go on, BlackBerry’s strategy of focusing on business and providing integrated enterprise management with their BES 10 services is not only moving in the right direction, it provides a compelling and solid platform for enterprises of all sizes.

As always, I’d love to hear your comments or questions.

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  • BB Classic Rocks

    Great article…we need to see more like this.

  • RogG

    You realize that BlackBerry is a prominent sponsor of the AMG Mercedes F1 team right? Reads a bit like an advertorial as a result.

    • Hi Rog – check my caveat at the bottom of the article. I fully fess up to the fact that BlackBerry sourced this interview for me. I expected to meet a client that was favourable to BlackBerry. But Matt did seem to be authentic and very frank. But you are absolutely right in the fact that BlackBerry is a a sponsor.

      If it reads like an advertorial, that “fault” would be mine alone. I

      As a publisher we insisted (and always insist) that we have absolute editorial control of the article. I wrote what I heard from Matt and the opinions are mine and mine alone. Also a fact, however – I like my BlackBerry and I like what the firm is doing recently. (I also love Android and IOS devices as well). But I’m never afraid to be enthusiastic about what any vendor is doing well. Just my nature.

      WIth that said, in a world of advertorial content, you are always right to be skeptical about anything you read. FYI – any advertorial content in any of our publications is clearly labeled as such.

      Thanks for the comments!

      Jim

  • derek

    I think the best parts about the article were the ability to perform BES 12 remote wipes + recovery, locate device, system restore, locking the device and changing the PIN. All tasks can be performed remotely without any issues. Highlights from Blend to the Hub also highlight Blackberry devices best days are ahead of them.

  • Fadzly Salleh

    Blend 1.2 should be coming out soon. Hopefully any shortcomings for the feature would be ironed out.

  • Alain Lafond

    As a canadian I’m starving for a good, mainstream smartphone from BB.
    Hping for the best!!!
    BB used to rule the world…
    But the romans too… 8-(