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By Tim Hunt

Blackberry's future looks bright in key niche

Uploaded: Aug 6, 2015

After attending the Innovation Tri-Valley Leadership Group's seventh annual Software Stars at Casa Real, I have a new opinion of Blackberry.
I had figured that the smart phones would spell the end of the company that a software executive once described to me as a "killer app." In 2010, Blackberry had 43 percent of the smart phone market, but, thanks to the popularity of the Apple IPhone and devices by Samsung and other manufacturers, its consumer market share has shrunk to 1.5 percent.
But, according to Marty Beard, the Chief Operating Officer, there is a critical niche that Blackberry is exploiting—secure communications. He told the crowd that all of the G20 countries use Blackberry phones because of its security is the gold standard for wireless devices. Working out of the West Coast headquarters in Pleasanton, Beard said the turn-around has resulted in the company sitting on $3 billion in cash. John Chen, CEO of Sybase in Dublin when it was purchased by SAP, has served as CEO of Blackberry since November 2013.
The firm demonstrated in New York earlier last week just how critical wireless security can be. One of its "white hat hackers" was asked to crack a wirelessly controlled infusion pump controlling medication to a dummy in a hospital. After three minutes, he was able to quadruple the medication and "kill" the patient.
On that same panel, Dr. Rahul Parikh of the Permanente Medical Group (the physicians serving the Kaiser system) described how he and his colleagues are pushing innovation in the integrated medical system. He posed a key question that each of us should ask and answer: how much health data do we want available to outside providers?
The new wearable technologies can monitor health status and activity levels remotely. Do you want your insurance company knowing if you exercised today? Excellent points to ponder.
Brad Surak, General Manager of Industrial Internet Applications for GE Software (headquartered in Bishop Ranch in San Ramon) noted that CEO Jeff Immelt told Charlie Rose that he went to bed one night running an industrial manufacturing firm and woke up the next morning in charge of a software company. Incidentally, the GE facility in San Ramon has grown from 400 employees to 1,200 in just four years.
The Internet of interconnected devices for consumers or of major industrial equipment in GE's case (digitizing the physical world) touches all of us. Surak pointed out that 80 percent of GE's revenue comes from servicing what it sells.
And Ray O'Connor, CEO of Livermore-based Topcon, told of remotely monitoring a giant dirt scraper in New York from an office in San Francisco. Topcon makes the GPS-controllers for all forms of equipment.
The first panel featured managers from Sandia and Lawrence Livermore labs as well as Rob Sadow, the founder of start-up Scoop that is using its mobile app to help encourage ridesharing for commuters.
The national lab folks celebrated that recent White House initiative that spelled out the importance of U.S. leadership in high-speed computing. For decades, Lawrence Livermore, working with industrial partners, has utilized the most capable high-speed computers in the world, but the Chinese have greatly improved their capabilities.
The computers are used for modeling simulations of nuclear explosions as well as other very complex problems.
The computing power, coupled with the lab's ability to bring experienced scientists and engineers from various disciplines together to work on big challenges, continue to help advance the national interests. For instance, they now can model a human heart, in real time, down to the chemical reactions at the molecular level.