BlackBerry looks to expand downmarket by introducing AtHoc Managed Service

The new managed service is the direct result of the pandemic, with customers outside of AtHoc’s traditional large organization market asking BlackBerry to stand up a service for them.

David Wiseman, Vice President Secure Communications and Product Marketing, BlackBerry

BlackBerry has launched BlackBerry AtHoc Managed Service, which makes their crisis communications software available as a service that is managed and delivered by BlackBerry. The service is the direct result of requests for assistance during the pandemic, by organizations who don’t have the capabilities to execute a critical communications plan on their own. The company expects that it will broaden their customer base significantly, beyond the larger organizations that have traditionally used AtHoc.

“AtHoc has been in the market for two decades, said David Wiseman, Vice President Secure Communications and Product Marketing at BlackBerry. “Traditionally, we supported larger government organizations, especially in the U.S. federal space. That has been the bulk of our customer base. This type of customer has crisis management teams in place.” These customers include many U.S. federal departments, including Energy, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Justice, Treasury, Veterans Affairs and the Federal Aviation Administration. Other customers include the  Parliament of Canada, Global Affairs Canada, Port of Houston and the American Red Cross.

BlackBerry AtHoc Managed Service is all about expanding beyond that base, and the COVID-19 pandemic was the catalyst for change here.

“We had a  number of organizations reach out to us and they said ‘we have no type of crisis communications, can you put something together quickly for us,’ and we would stand up an environment for them in two business days,” Wiseman said. “They didn’t have the staff to put together a critical communications plan and execute that plan. We realized that without that expertise they couldn’t even get started on their own. We have that expertise. We know what to do. They just need a point of contact to sign off on the plans and authorize messages. At the end of the day, when something does happen, we can send out the messages for them.”

The service provides customers with 24×7 crisis management communications, alerts, and support, including the option to send alerts on their behalf. Customers may also exchange notifications with other government agencies and commercial enterprises using the BlackBerry AtHoc platform. The service can be up and running in 48 hours.

The target audience for AtHoc Managed Service is organizations who don’t have those resources and skills inside the organization.

“That doesn’t mean they are small,” Wiseman said. “Some municipalities and hospitals we worked with aren’t small, but just didn’t have people who had the needed skills. Of the systems we stood up, maybe 40-50% were public health agencies or hospitals, a third public safety and the balance a mixture of industries. With these types of customers, having this available as a managed service with no CAPEX expenditure will also help.”

SLED [state and local government and education] is another logical area for expansion with the new service, because of both the lack of internal skills and the OPEX model making it easier to buy going forward, when budgets are likely to be reduced because of pandemic costs and tax base erosion.

“We have some significant SLED customers, like Contra Costa county in California, but we feel there’s a lot more potential there,” Wiseman noted. “The SLED market is an example where there typically isn’t staff and skills in place.”

Another factor which would encourage crisis communication as a managed service is that it isn’t an everyday thing.

“It’s something that any organization might do twice a year,” Wiseman noted. “Given that, will the people who are responsible for it keep their skills?”

So what’s the channel play here? Wiseman said that it has multiple aspects.

“We have worked with all three of the big Canadian carriers – Rogers, Bell, and Telus –  where they bring it to their customer base, and we will support them with this.  We also have a series of specialized integrator partners. The third grouping of partners is around ISVs. One of AtHoc;s strengths is its connectivity into a broad variety of communication centres . Some of these are both technology partners and channel partners – camera systems and health systems. These are very focused people.”

Wiseman noted that partners will be able to deliver the service themselves, and add their own services on top.

“It’s a managed service that we offer, but partners can still sell and deliver it, and if they have the right expertise they can enhance the offering, like running quarterly drills for their customers.”