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BlackBerry opens up, allows other companies to manage BB10 devices

The move is evidence that the company wants to go cross-platform, and not stay within its own operating system.

The BlackBerry Q10 can be managed by multiple companies, giving it a bit more flexibility in the work environment. Sarah Tew/CNET

BlackBerry took another step in tearing down its walled garden on Tuesday after announcing that it would let other companies manage its BlackBerry 10 smartphones.

Traditionally, company IT departments that wanted to remotely manage their employees' BlackBerrys needed a BlackBerry Enterprise Server, part of a closed, end-to-end BlackBerry-controlled system that the company argued was more secure.

But over the past year, BlackBerry has been more willing to open itself up, seen as necessary as the company fights for survival and hangs on to the small share of the market it still controls. It started by enabling its own BES to manage devices running Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating systems. Today's news represents the logical follow-up announcement.

"I think it's about time, necessary, and a good move for BlackBerry," said Christian Kane, an analyst at Forrester. "This should continue to show customers that they truly want to be cross-platform across the company."

BlackBerry said that International Business Machines, Citrix, and AirWatch, which provide mobile device management services, are the first companies to express interest in allowing their own services to manage BlackBerry 10 handsets. BlackBerry enterprise chief John Sims said in an interview on Tuesday that SAP was also interested in supporting BlackBerry devices.

By opening up its mobile device management options, BlackBerry is hoping that business customers not willing to invest in a BES will be more keen on buying a BlackBerry 10 smartphone.

"Our strategy around BB10 has been around making great devices," Sims said. "We think (the announcement) is one way to drive this."

BlackBerry could use the help. In the fiscal fourth quarter, the company saw its sales fall 64 percent as it sold 3.4 million BlackBerry devices, with only 1.1 million running on its newer BlackBerry 10 OS.

BlackBerry, however, isn't giving up on its secure, closed system. Sims said for larger enterprises and financial institutions that require higher levels of security, the BES mobile device management system is still the way to go.

"We still believe the BlackBerry end-to-end experience is still going to be the gold standard," he said.

Still, he acknowledged that not every company needs that level of security.

"We're trying to give customers as many choices as possible and be as flexible of possible," he said.