RIM’s Balsillie offers glimpse of future after NTP

TORONTO – The morning after it won a key patent ruling, Research In Motion’s chairman outlined a strategy he said would allow CIOs to extend the composite applications they are building on top of service-oriented architectures and make the BlackBerry even more popular in the enterprise. 

Speaking as a guest at a breakfast event hosted by Deloitte, Jim Balsillie joked he was “delighted to be speaking about patent reform,” referring to a decision Wednesday by U.S. authorities to reject the last of five patents contested by NTP Inc. Although NTP has 30 days to appeal the ruling, the decision could give RIM an advantage in any settlement talks, while bolstering its case when it appears at a crucial court hearing on Feb. 24.

The threat of an injunction that would bar BlackBerry service in the U.S. has raised fears among U.S government authorities and research firms such as Gartner, Inc. Balsillie, however, did not address that possibility, instead forecasting a year of considerable growth for the wireless device maker. RIM, which already has close to five million BlackBerry subscribers worldwide, plans to extend its service to 100 new carriers this year, reaching 40 more countries. It also has approximately 60,000 enterprise installations, and Balsillie said he talks with about 24 CIOs a day about the “tremendous pressure” they face to create a mobile workforce without compromising the reliability of existing services. 

“It’s like a game of 52 pickup,” Balsillie said. “Somebody throws the cards up in the air and the CIO has to put the deck back together again.”

Balsillie said those CIOs are telling him they want a product and service bundle that is both secure and seamlessly integrates with their existing e-mail environment and protocols such as GPRS, EDGE, UMTS and 1xRTT. They are also starting to think of the BlackBerry as a conduit for data other than e-mail, Balsillie added, offering increased access to enterprise applications such as sales force automation and customer relationship management.

“I remember when we sought financing for the BlackBerry in 1997, the overwhelming response was, ‘Why would I want e-mail?’ It’s easy to be right in hindsight,” Balsillie said. “Now, when you change access to information, you change your relationship to it . . . we’re an interface to a plurality of servers that matter to you.”

RIM’s strategy is based in large part on its Mobile Data System (MDS) 4.1 architecture, which is designed to integrate wireless applications with back-end, Web services-based enterprise systems. MDS 4.1 provides a foundation for the forthcoming BlackBerry Enterprise Server 4.1, which was demonstrated at the recent Lotusphere conference in Orlando. The architecture will allow developers to layer mobility onto composite applications — in other words, applications built from combining multiple services in a service oriented architecture, Balsillie said.

RIM’s evolution comes at a time when Deloitte is predicting e-mail will be knocked off its perch as the No. 1 killer application. Paul Lee, director of the professional service firm’s U.K. practice, said 2006 will mark the year search displaces messaging. This is in part, he said, because the increased digitization of content such as books, video and photographs, which Deloitte estimates will amount to 20 billion-billion megabytes, or 20 exabytes, this year. 

“If you have a library with only 10 books, you don’t need any reference design to organize them,” he said, adding increased digitization calls for greater organization. Deloitte is recommending the IT industry continue to refine the user interface for search and to extend it to portable devices.

Balsillie agreed, noting that e-mail’s popularity is explained because people like to communicate, but the experience has plenty of room for improvement. “E-mail is a poor payload for chat. If you’re having an ongoing chat in e-mail, it floods your inbox,” he said. “We end up taking it past its optimal usefulness.”

RIM sees the BlackBerry’s future as a platform for what Balsillie called instant messaging with “contextualization” such as presence awareness and the location of those communicating. Lotus SameTime, Microsoft Live Communication Server and Novell’s IM are examples of these applications, he said.

The growth of companies such as RIM could come at the expense of operators, said Lee, who are fixated on higher speeds without having applications that take advantage of them. Voice, text messaging and even mobile e-mail, he observed, require far less bandwidth than what many operators are adding to their network. “It confounds me,” he said. “Our recommendation is, don’t sell speed as a service, because consumers may not understand the significance.”

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