Eyes on Zenprise: How the 2007 World Champion Boston Red Sox’s IT Shop Keeps BlackBerrys in the Game
Twenty-four/seven connectivity is a must for the 2007 world champion Boston Red Sox's behind-the-scenes champions, and the team counts on a mobile device management (MDM) product from Zenprise to ensure that its BlackBerrys never strike out.
By Al Sacco
Managing Editor, CIO
One year ago, BlackBerry management wasn’t much of an issue for Steve Conley, director of IT for the Major League Baseball (MLB) world champion Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox had only 30 or 40 BlackBerry users, and managing them was fairly simple. It wasn’t until last February, when the organization distributed about 125 more of the gadgets to the team’s scouts, that he realized he needed to find a new approach to BlackBerry management.
One of Conley’s biggest problems after the rollout was delays. “The messages were getting there, but they were coming in slower,” Conley says. “When you have users who are conditioned to how well BlackBerry usually works, [declining performance is] a problem.”
The situation wasn’t catastrophic, but after about six months and numerous failed attempts to resolve the issue, he got a message from on high: “It’s unacceptable. Fix it.” So Conley searched for products that not only included BlackBerry environment monitoring but also integrated problem resolution. After extensive research, he discovered Zenprise for BlackBerry. Zenprise was the only product he found with BlackBerry infrastructure monitoring and automated issue resolution instructions, so it didn’t take long for the Red Sox to get the product installed. Conley says his mail latency problem disappeared soon afterward.
“[Before Zenprise] our users called us, and we would go through the general troubleshooting steps, go through the server logs, call BlackBerry support, wait on hold, try to figure it out,” Conley says. “What we usually got was an answer from Research In Motion [RIM] that said it was a Microsoft problem, and Microsoft said it was a BlackBerry problem. And really they were both right. It wasn’t until we got the Zenprise product installed did we know that we had some design issues, and there was a lot of tweaking to be done.”
Screenshot of a Zenprise Dashboard
Zenprise for BlackBerry discovered that the issue was not the result of a single infrastructure issue, according to Conley. Rather, several minor issues were compounding and causing message delays. Zenprise discovers such problems by analyzing data flowing through a company’s infrastructure, including BES and Exchange servers, to discover issues affecting or that could potentially affect users. The root cause of the problems are determined by a series of automated troubleshooting tests, according to Datoo, and a built-in library of RIM and Microsoft materials helps suggest known fixes. Zenprise also employs a number of BES and Exchange experts to contribute recently discovered fixes to new problems.
Conley followed the Zenprise tool’s resolution instructions and made a set of changes, such as splitting the BES and SQL servers onto separate machines and installing a number of recommended service packs.
“Within four days of having the product in, we were able to correlate root cause and be able to show ROI from that,” Conley says. “Within a month, a problem that was ongoing for five to six months just disappeared.” Better yet, he notes, fewer people were calling his team with problems. Instead, the Zenprise tool began offering early warnings on issues so he could report them to users before noticeable problems appeared.
Zenprise Resolution Instructions
Though other companies offer products that can be tweaked to monitor the BlackBerry e-mail environment, such as IBM’s Tivoli and Hewlett-Packard’s OpenView, Zenprise currently offers the only product that includes full automation of the BlackBerry management process, according to Datoo.
Conley says that since the day his team installed Zenprise for BlackBerry, the Red Sox IT staff has been able to find root causes for every BlackBerry-related issue they’ve encountered, major or minor, and promptly address those issues with confidence that the suggested fixes will work.
Today, Conley has only one person who spends any of his time—a mere 10 percent—on BlackBerry support. Zenprise does the rest, he says. A year ago, two IT staffers handled BlackBerry support and the organization had only a quarter of the devices it supports today.
Smartphone use is expected to grow rapidly over the coming years, and CIOs need to start adjusting their BlackBerry and mobile device management (MDM) strategies, especially since many do not plan to increase the sizes of their IT staff to match that growth. According to 2008 State of the CIO research, 47 percent of CIOs expect the number of IT staffers they employ to remain static or decrease in the coming year, and they’re currently spending 60 percent of their IT budgets on simply keeping the lights on.
So would Conley recommend Zenprise to CIOs or IT departments looking to automate MDM? “If you have a BES server, Zenprise should be built into the cost,” he says. “That’s about as strong of a ‘yes’ as I can give.”
If he could criticize one thing about the Zenprise for BlackBerry product, however, it would be that it’s currently available only for BlackBerry mail infrastructure. But that won’t be an issue for much longer, according to Datoo. The company says that in the coming months it will announce support for all mobile devices that connect to Exchange servers, including Symbian devices, Windows Mobile devices and iPhones.
The product costs $60 a user for organizations with fewer than 200 BlackBerrys and $35 per user for organizations with 1,000 BlackBerrys or more. Volume discounts are also available to companies with more than 1,000 BlackBerry devices. And the company offers customized licensing schemes so that organizations can add users whenever necessary and be billed for the service in the future.
Al Sacco was a journalist, blogger and editor who covers the fast-paced mobile beat for CIO.com and IDG Enterprise, with a focus on wearable tech, smartphones and tablet PCs. Al managed CIO.com writers and contributors, covered news, and shared insightful expert analysis of key industry happenings. He also wrote a wide variety of tutorials and how-tos to help readers get the most out of their gadgets, and regularly offered up recommendations on software for a number of mobile platforms. Al resides in Boston and is a passionate reader, traveler, beer lover, film buff and Red Sox fan.