Singing BlackBerry Blues

BlackBerry wireless e-mail

Partners said because RIM considers major carriers as its "channel," the company has failed to cultivate tight, solution-oriented relationships with smaller solution providers that work with the BlackBerry.

"There aren't many solution providers out there that make for a good match with RIM," said David Bean, president of eAccess Solutions, Palatine, Ill., who has been a RIM partner for five years. In order to fit well with RIM, a solution provider must have competency with wireless WAN technology and contracts with the carriers, he added.

Steve Beauregard, president of Regard Solutions, Santa Monica, Calif., was one of the first partners to join RIM's channel program in 1998 and says the relationship has varied a great deal during that time. "Large systems integrators in the wireless space will probably have a good relationship with RIM. But if you're a smaller solution provider, RIM will likely give you little attention or support until you build considerable volume of business," he said.

"RIM has a great solution, but they're a challenging company to work with. We've seen them change a lot of their policies on how they will provide ongoing support for the BlackBerry Enterprise Server," said Dan Croft, president and CEO of Mission Critical Wireless, a Lincolnshire, Ill.-based solution provider.

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"RIM is organized, from a management perspective, around carriers, and partners that succeed are able to work around those parameters," Croft said. "If RIM were to open up that strategy and have a channel and work with third parties, I imagine they would do it delicately in order to remain carrier-agnostic."

In a Feb. 24 hearing, a U.S. court will rule on a possible shutdown of the BlackBerry service for RIM's estimated 3.3 million North American customers. Partners say that although their customers are somewhat uneasy, they haven't seen a mass migration to competing wireless e-mail solutions.

Croft, whose primary business is supporting BlackBerry devices, has several Fortune 500 clients and provides behind-the-scenes support for several wireless carriers. Although his customers are asking about competing wireless e-mail solutions such as Intellisync, GoodLink and Notify, Croft says there hasn't been a corresponding spike in sales.

Bean has reassured customers by implementing a wireless e-mail solution in the back end that can run on BlackBerries. "We can turn it around and have our entire customer base of 250,000 BlackBerries up and running in 48 hours," Bean said.

Surya Jayaweera, CEO of WolfeTech Development, a Claremont, Calif.-based RIM partner that develops BlackBerry solutions for Fortune 50 clients, says his customers have been moving ahead with deployments. Companies that have standardized on BlackBerry don't want to go through the hassle of implementing a competitor's solution, said Jayaweera. "When they've already gone through the security evaluation and testing, companies don't want to jump ship because it's going to be expensive and time-consuming," he said.