In a move some analysts said BlackBerry should have made long ago -- even back when it was known as Research in Motion -- the handset maker has decided to allow mobile Relevant Products/Services device management (MDM) companies to manage devices directly with the BlackBerry 10 (BB10) operating system.

BlackBerry hopes to preserve -- and perhaps even grow -- market share by giving organizations more options to adopt multi-operating system mobile environments. The move is finding at least some early success. AirWatch, Citrix and IBM intend to be among the first to work with BlackBerry to drive a more open mobility ecosystem.

"Offering the end-to-end secure Relevant Products/Services solutions valued by our customers in government and other regulated industries remains central to our strategy. However, BlackBerry understands the opportunity and importance of opening our BlackBerry 10 software," said Ron Louks, president of Devices and Emerging Solutions at BlackBerry. "This is a natural next step in our enterprise Relevant Products/Services strategy as we seek to provide our customers with maximum choice in how they will meet the full array of employee mobility needs."

Why Now?

According to market research firm Gartner Relevant Products/Services, MDM remains a top priority for IT buyers, and investment levels are growing steadily. Competition among players drives commoditization. Gartner also noted that proliferation of and demand for workplace mobility drive the need for quality and flexible management tools. BlackBerry is trying to roll with the mobile tide. AirWatch is bullish on the deal.

"The enterprise mobility landscape continues to rapidly evolve, and BlackBerry represents a valued addition to our partner ecosystem," said Kevin Keith, director of Business Development at AirWatch by VMware Relevant Products/Services. "The integration of the BlackBerry 10 operating system into the comprehensive AirWatch Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) Platform will empower our customers and partners to fully manage any device in their mobile fleet from a single console."

BlackBerry will continue to offer its multi-platform EMM solution BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 (BES10), which manages and secures corporate-owned and BYOD BlackBerry, iOS and Android devices. BlackBerry intends to launch BES12 in late 2014, adding Windows Phone 8 support.

Cannibalization a Risk?

According to market research firm IDC, BlackBerry has dipped from 43 percent of the smartphone market in 2011 to 14 percent in 2013. By way of comparison, Android-powered phones have surged to 81 percent globally. Does BlackBerry’s move amount to too little, too late?

We asked Michael Disabato, managing vice president of network Relevant Products/Services and telecom at Gartner, for his take on the latest BlackBerry play. He told us it’s indeed a few years late.

“In order for a device management system to be relevant, you need to have devices to manage,” Disabato said. “Given the lack of market share and mindshare that BB10 has, this is probably a good thing because it will allow those companies who still want to manage the devices to do so.”

Of course, it’s possible that the move could cannibalize BES sales. But Disabato said it’s also possible that clients considering getting rid of BlackBerrys as corporate devices because they don’t want to continue paying for BES could remain clients.

“This could keep those devices in play by allowing them to consolidate their device management systems,” Disabato said. “For companies that don’t have BlackBerry anymore, this is a so what.”