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BlackBerry enters digital workspace market

BlackBerry's digital workspace offering is meant to strike a balance between connectivity, productivity and security, especially for IT admins who cater to a range of worker types.

BlackBerry released Digital Workplace this month, a workspace product intended to deliver secure access to the corporate resources workers need to do their jobs.

The BlackBerry digital workspace offering, announced Feb. 5, integrates BlackBerry Desktop, Cylance cybersecurity technology and Awingu's workspace aggregation capabilities into a single product.

Experts said BlackBerry is trying to strike a balance between productivity and security with its workspace. The product, they said, comes at a time when bring your own device policies and remote-work capability have gained prevalence, and with them the need for flexible security tools.

Billed as a tool for the modern workforce

Alex Willis, vice president of global sales engineering at BlackBerry, said Digital Workplace helps companies better manage the needs of the modern workforce. Businesses today might rely on a range of workers -- including full-time employees (FTEs), contractors, seasonal employees and partners -- who need access to company data and use devices businesses may not necessarily control.

Alex WillisAlex Willis

"A really big company might have up to 30,000 contractors or consultants at any given time," he said. "Every time I ask them how they handle that situation, they say, 'Well, we just buy 30,000 more laptops and treat them like employees.'"

Otherwise, Willis said, those contractors would be using devices outside of the company's control, creating a less-than-ideal security situation.

Another challenge might arise when a merger or acquisition has taken place. Willis recounted a situation in which BlackBerry had acquired another company and an entirely new set of workers.

"We wanted to give them easy access to our intranet, because they have tons and tons of work to do with training and onboarding, and all of that information is on our intranet," he said. "VPN would have been the traditional method, but you don't want to do that on machines you don't manage, trust or secure."

Willis said the new BlackBerry workspace can accommodate such situations, as it creates a "secure enclave" for corporate data on a device. Remotely accessed data can be securely downloaded for offline work without risking compromise, he said.

To manage information access with a varied workforce, BlackBerry Digital Workplace can quickly provide access to necessary company resources such as corporate email, calendar and contacts while giving IT the time to wipe a company's data from a device at the end of a contract or in case of emergency.

Security for Digital Workplace is based on BlackBerry's Zero Trust Architecture, in which access attempts to corporate systems and data are not trusted until that trust has been earned.

"In standard security, you have authentication -- you authenticate, and then [the user gets] access to whatever they need," Willis said. "What zero trust would be is [saying] that's not enough. It doesn't stop there. You have to continuously monitor and then take action, dependent on what they're doing."

The zero-trust framework, Willis said, builds a user profile based on user behavior, including a user's networks, the data a user accesses, the time of day a user typically logs on and even how fast the user types.

The data is fed into an algorithm to generate a trust score, which is used to determine the level of access a user should receive.

"Every action becomes an authentication point," he said.

According to Willis, BlackBerry Digital Workplace will make deployment easy for IT administrators, especially if a company is already using a BlackBerry unified endpoint management environment. For users, he said, deployment is simply a short download and install.

Analysts: Balancing security with access

Forrester analyst Andrew Hewitt said BlackBerry's Digital Workplace represents another player's entry into a workspace market that has been gaining prevalence in recent years. He noted that companies are increasingly interested in empowering their employees' tech decisions through things like bring your own device policies, and modern workspace products look to accommodate those decisions.

This is more evidence that people are interested in the employee experience and providing the technology to manage that experience.
Andrew HewittAnalyst, Forrester

"This is more evidence that people are interested in the employee experience and providing the technology to manage that experience," he said.

Andrew HewittAndrew Hewitt

Hewitt pointed to BlackBerry Digital Workplace's ability to handle a range of employees as being important to companies seeking a workspace app.

"You see things [they mention] like the mix of different employees, whether it's full-time, contractors, [or] remote workers," he said. "Digital workspace is seen as a solution to allow others -- other than FTEs -- the access [they need]."

"That's a lot of what the workspace value proposition is: giving people access to do their jobs," he added.

Dion Hinchcliffe, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, said the BlackBerry workspace product -- and the other productivity and information access tools that make up BlackBerry Digital Workplace -- would appeal most to companies seeking a secure and cost-effective remote workspace.

Dion HinchcliffeDion Hinchcliffe

"As a company, one of BlackBerry's last remaining core competencies is very highly secure, yet very simple to use, information access over networks," he said.

Hinchcliffe said the BlackBerry digital workspace, as a bundle, provides companies with a complete access solution.

"Certainly, those that crave the most security-conscious solutions while not breaking the bank will find something of value here," he said.

Mark Bowker, Enterprise Strategy Group senior analyst, said digital workplace solutions are about transforming the way IT secures and manages the user experience.

Mark BowkerMark Bowker

"There's a dial that IT has to tune -- more security or better user experience," he said. "The 'magic' is if you're able to implement the optimal user experience at a high security. [Then] you've solved the digital workspace."

Bowker said BlackBerry's Digital Workplace -- along with offerings from other players like Microsoft and VMware -- is a step forward in that regard.

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