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Contractors told to relax about BlackBerry




Contractors told to relax about BlackBerry
Contractors told to relax about BlackBerry



http://www.fcw.com/article92023-01-23-06-Print 

By Michael Arnone
Jan. 23, 2006 

The thought of life without Research in Motion's BlackBerry - often 
called "CrackBerries" for their addictive ease of use - makes many 
owners of the handheld devices check the waiting list at the nearest 
rehab clinic. 

But the end could come next month. A federal appeals court judge is 
expected to announce a decision in a patent feud over the ubiquitous 
technology. The ruling could include shutting down BlackBerry service 
in the United States.

Government contractors have come to depend on the handheld messaging 
devices like they depend on their morning coffee. They rely on the 
devices to communicate with their federal clients and one another. 
BlackBerries provide users with great freedom and have changed the way 
contractors work, said Chris Pate, director of mobile solutions at 
GTSI and a self-described BlackBerry junkie.

Because the devices have become so ubiquitous, many contractors are 
seriously worried about how they would cope if they suddenly lost 
access to them. 

Companies and federal agencies are consulting experts for advice on 
preparing for the worst-case scenario. Ellen Daley, an analyst at 
Forrester Research, said she has received more than 100 inquiries 
during the past four weeks from customers, including contractors, who 
are worried that they might lose their BlackBerry service.

But Daley and other analysts say that contractors should calm down. 
Although the possible injunction is a real threat, many analysts 
regard it as unlikely. 

"I feel like they're worrying unnecessarily, but they are worrying," 
Daley said about the contractors.

"It's more emotional than anything," Pate said. His colleague, Scott 
Keough, senior manager of enterprise software at GTSI, said people are 
afraid to lose the flexibility and mobility they have taken for 
granted since BlackBerries came on the market. 

The microscopic media coverage of the legal case has made contractors 
nervous about the future. "For all the details, it's hard to tell what 
will happen," Pate said.


The heart of the argument

Two companies - RIM and NTP - each argue that they hold the original 
patents on the BlackBerry's wireless e-mail technology. NTP has sued 
RIM to get the credit and money it says it is due. RIM has encouraged 
the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to re-evaluate the credibility of 
NTP's patent claims. 

The possibility of an injunction against RIM, forcing the company to 
shut down its U.S. service, is the scenario that has contractors 
panicked but which analysts believe to be unlikely - only a 10 percent 
chance in Gartner Research's estimation. Forrester Research is even 
more confident, giving the possibility only a 2 percent chance.


Feds could get exception

The federal government has requested that employees with 
mission-critical responsibilities receive an exemption from an 
injunction. Daley said many contractors are jumping on the government 
bandwagon to ensure they keep their service to keep essential 
government operations running. 

Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner, said that in case of a shutdown, 
the judge will create a strict rule defining which critical government 
employees and contractors can keep their service. 

But "it's tough to define what a government contractor is," Dulaney 
said. Someone who works directly with federal agencies certainly 
qualifies. But consider subcontractors or others who work less 
directly with agencies and the waters grow murkier, he said. The judge 
will have to come up with the formula.

If contractors are forbidden to use BlackBerries, it may make it 
impossible for them to meet all of their contractual obligations, some 
of which were agreed to with the assumption that the instant 
communication provided by the devices would be available, Pate said. 

"It's hard to say how far the line will be drawn," Pate said. If the 
judge does not provide a generous definition of critical government 
employees, "it would cause performance issues in a company our size."


Endgame scenarios

In the unlikely event that RIM has to shut down U.S. mobile e-mail 
operations, contractors would not have to go cold turkey. Any 
injunctions would provide ample time - 30 to 60 days - to migrate to 
new systems, Pate said. Many RIM customers already have continuity of 
operations plans in place, he said. 

Gartner predicts that the two most likely outcomes =97 35 percent chance 
of either - are that RIM and NTP will settle or that the resolution 
will take another 12 months to 18 months. Gartner foresees a 20 
percent chance that RIM will use workaround plans that don't infringe 
on NTP.

If RIM and NTP settle, it would likely mean no changes at all for 
contractors, Dulaney said. RIM could potentially charge more for the 
service to pay for the settlement but will likely eat those costs, he 
said.

"I'm not convinced that this is a total disaster for anyone," Dulaney 
said. "It's just an inconvenience."


Contractors should prepare

The possibility that Research in Motion BlackBerry users in the United 
States could lose their service may push federal agencies to look more 
closely at their mobile communications plans, said Chris Pate, 
director of mobile solutions at GTSI.

That is a good thing because many organizations may use BlackBerries 
as a technological crutch, Pate said. BlackBerries work so well and 
are so popular that some agencies have not created wireless 
communication plans that encourage effective information technology 
management or address workforce needs, he said. No organization should 
rely on one technology so that its absence could ruin a communications 
plan, he said. 

No matter what happens, organizations that use BlackBerries should 
assign one person to spend a week developing contingency plans, said 
Ellen Daley, an analyst at Forrester Research.

-=-

The planner should: 

* Identify and contact other vendors in case the companies need 
  to move to another technology.

* Develop a migration plan with a deployment timeline and 
  prioritized list of who would receive new devices. 

* Identify purchasing locations, including existing vendors.

* Determine which wireless applications, other than e-mail clients, 
  employees want to access via mobile devices. 

Michael Arnone



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