BlackBerry focused on moving expanding channel to new secure workflow-focused vision

The BlackBerry channel back in its mobile device heyday was mainly telcos. Now, as they move broadly into security software they are expanding their channel, but also trying to focus it squarely on BlackBerry’s vision of the future.

Richard McLeod, BlackBerry’s Global VP of Enterprise Software Channels

NEW YORK CITY — On Tuesday, BlackBerry CEO kicked off the fourth BlackBerry Security Summit here with an emphasis on BlackBerry’s strategy of expanding its channel, both in terms of the breadth of the partner types with which they work, and the amount of business that they do. Richard McLeod, BlackBerry’s Global VP of Enterprise Software Channels subsequently fleshed in the details of the strategy for ChannelBuzz.

McLeod is a long-time Cisco guy who spent 13 years there, all in channel roles, with the final one being Senior Director of Worldwide Collaboration Channel Sales. McLeod left Cisco in August 2015 and surfaced at Blackberry the following May, specifically tasked with building out BlackBerry’s channel.

“I came soon after the acquisition of WatchDox [now BlackBerry Workspaces] and Good Technologies,” he said. “We were bringing together several companies, with different channel backgrounds. WatchDox went through channels to some degree, but it was ad hoc. Good was mainly channels. The old BlackBerry was focused on servers and devices and, the partners were service providers. As we moved more into the security space, we became involved with a very different set of partners, and a very different enablement process.”

McLeod said that the challenge for BlackBerry from a channels perspective is to transition the partners – most of whose legacy focus has been a different model – to BlackBerry’s strategic focus going forward.

“As we go after security partners and bring them into the secure application delivery space, as well as application partners in the Salesforce and Microsoft space, the issue is how we securely take those applications to mobile devices. We consider ourselves to be in a secure workflow market. Enabling partners to most from device management to secure solutions and secure workflows, surrounded by security consulting, is what we are all about.”

McLeod said that while pulling off this integration is challenging, he has the background for it.

“It’s a journey,” he said. “It doesn’t happen overnight, and we aren’t complete by any stretch. However in my 13 years at Cisco, I saw lots of acquisitions – acquisitions, integrations and rationalizations. It’s not the first time I’ve seen this movie.”

BlackBerry moved quickly to put everything under one organizational structure, with a common program, common channel sales and common channel go-to-market.

“Infighting on issues around platforms and taking technology to market feeds channel conflict,” McLeod said. “After all the acquisitions at Cisco, it would take a year to two years to sort out what would stay and what would go with each. The Good Technology integration was a marriage made in heaven. We acquired Good on November 1 and in January launched the first version of our integrated platform. That’s unheard of. It took one week for the teams for decide what was better and put together a strategy for the roadmap – Boom! Done! We will soon be announcing the fifth iteration of that.”

McLeod said that when BlackBerry was transitioning from bring proprietary to their present ‘any device, any OS support,’ Good filled in their gaps effectively.

“Where we were weak them was applications and SDKs,” he said. “Good was fabulous on containerization, IOS support,  and SDKs. Where they were not very strong was device management and tools that go with that, and BlackBerry is the best in the market at that. WatchDox layered almost immediately to us as well. Bringing these together into a cohesive technology platform accelerated the need for an integrated go-to-market and channel framework. It meant we needed to build a channel program that enables around that integrated platform, about application solutions and APIs and business outcomes. We needed to build a program that enables partners for doing that, and brands and rewards them for specialization.”

That initial program was announced quickly, in March 2016, and was put in place in July. It was a three tier model. The Authorized level required only one salesperson to go through online training, with testing. The Gold level was more advanced sales and technical sales, and required training of one person on each [although they could be the same person] with classroom training and proctored testing. The top, Platinum, level added the requirement of being able to do Level One and Two support.

“Not all the Platinum partners are telcos,” McLeod said. “You don’t have to even have a hosted business, just be able to do the support.”

By the end of 2016, BlackBerry had announced specializations for partners deeper into higher level solutions like Workspaces, and AtHoc crisis communications, where the minimum level was Gold, and where a higher level of deployment and sales support is required.

A constant theme has been moving customers up the software stack, which is why deal registration is applied to upsells as well as net-new customers.

“BlackBerry did not even have deal registration before we acquired Good,” McLeod said. “We use it not just for new customers or new logos, but for driving acceleration of our current footprint. SaaS is all about land and expand, and with our five levels of software suites, it’s all about moving people up in suites. And as they move up the curve, we want them to be opening SDKs and moving into new workflows. That’s why we incent these upsells and upgrades as well.”

BlackBerry has a large channel — just shy of 1800 partners globally – with 185 of those being in Canada. McLeod stressed that BlackBerry is aggressively encouraging partners to expand their original business models and move up the software application food chain.

“We are aggressively going after new security and application-centric partners,” he said. “We used to just use broadliners for distribution, and we still use Ingram Micro, but in May this year we added Interwork Technologies. Their entire model is security software.” That relationship includes both the U.S. and Canada, and covers the full range of BlackBerry software suites.

“Interwork is very aggressively seeking new partners for us and our channel managers then recruit them,” McLeod said. “We have other distributors across the globe that do similar roles.” One of them is Carahsoft, their other key distributor in North America. Both Carahsoft and Interwork were at the Security Summit event.

McLeod said that BlackBerry is not formally cutting ties with partners who aren’t committing to the new journey, but realistically, those not aggressively moving with BlackBerry to the new model are becoming less relevant.

“We aren’t yet culling out partners because they don’t have the right DNA, but they are falling a little by the wayside,” he said. “We know that’s a journey, and progression is self-defining. If you don’t progress up the curve, and you don’t add the value we want, we don’t see the mutual commitment, and the sales team isn’t dealing with you.”

While the channel transformation has been underway for a year and a half, it is in a similar position as BlackBerry’s overall strategic objective of rebranding itself, in terms of getting its partner channel reoriented around secure management workflows.

“We still have a lot of work to do there, both with existing partners and bringing in the big solution providers in the security space,” McLeod stated. “BlackBerry is still in its first or second year of rebranding ourselves and educating the market who we are, and that goes for the channel too. Ultimately, it will all come down to customer wins, which we have to have. Virtually every global bank is our customer, and we recently acquired the NYSE as a customer [and switched their own listing there from the NASDAQ]. We need to keep making progress.”