There are ways around BlackBerry, and some Feds are already doing it

Just say no to BlackBerry (and tell your friends too!)

If you rode the metro to work yesterday, you probably saw the Washington Post Express which headlined with, "In BlackBerry We Trust." It details Washington's love affair with the BlackBerry mobile smartphone. It is likely that if you know anyone in government, they have two phones, personal and work. And that work phone is almost always a BlackBerry.

Right now, Android has 50% of the US smartphone market, Apple is at around 32%. That's not counting the number of iPads (and some Android tablets) out in the wild. The utter dominance of the two platforms does not leave a lot of space for anyone else. However, the federal government does not seem to care (only somewhat to the chagrin of their employees). Many employees I've talked to like the "separation of church and state," for two reasons; they do not want their personal information accessible by work and they do not want their personal time accessible by work. Cecilia Kang wrote this post, and found that the government preferred the BlackBerry ecosystem for a variety of reasons;

  • the first is security, BlackBerry is FIPS 140-2 compliant, which no other platform can offer
  • BlackBerry is cheaper than iPhone, and cheaper than most Android devices as well
  • incumbent staff is trained to deal with BlackBerry systems
Some government workers are happy with their BlackBerrys. There is always BBM and the full keyboard. However, many are looking for a real touchscreen, the apps that all their friends have, and the freedom this generation smartphones offer.

But government workers don't have to despair. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Projects at the VA are enabling encapsulated data to be displayed on the devices - yet no data is stored locally. This puts the data safely in a FIPS 140-2 secured container. This is the sort of innovative solution that is needed in government technology.

Both the FAA and the VA are leading the vanguard in alternative device adoption. The FAA is teaching classes both with iPads and without - to analyze potential value add. The VA has an open door policy which allows employees to pitch iPad use-cases, and if they pass, provide the devices.

We are moving past the technological constraints of the BlackBerry (bandwidth, screen size, multimedia capabilities) and our government needs to move with us. The BlackBerry is an aging device, one which cannot deliver the rich web content we are used to consuming. Soon, you should expect to see a variety of devices in the hands of our government employees, consuming their data through secured applications that deliver their capabilities they need.

Ryan Kamauff

Ryan Kamauff is a senior analyst with Crucial Point LLC. He produces technology focused content for and reports on analytical megatrends at the new analysis focused Analyst One.
About Ryan Kamauff

Ryan Kamauff is a senior analyst with Crucial Point LLC. He produces technology focused content for and reports on analytical megatrends at the new analysis focused Analyst One.

Dave Walker
Dave Walker 5pts

A Blackberry (with a modified firmware load) is also the only mobile platform approved by CESG for accessing protectively-marked networks over here in the UK. Even the GD Sectera Edge (the famous "BarackBerry") isn't used over here, to my knowledge. I gather there are other platforms going through the approval process (one of which I think is particularly likely to succeed, as it has proven military heritage), but currently, if RIM was to effectively "go away", civil servants and senior politicians would probably need to carry around two briefcases full of kit (and train with weights, in order to carry one of those cases any distance) in order to stay briefed and current.  iThings need some work, but appropriate people are talking to Apple. For various reasons, I'd like to do so, too.