AirWatch interested in acquiring BlackBerry division

AirWatch Chairman Alan Dabbiere said Tuesday the Sandy Springs maker of software that helps corporations securely manage their employees’ mobile devices is interested in acquiring a similar business from competitor BlackBerry.

In an interview from Washington, D.C., Dabbiere told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that while AirWatch has not made a bid it has been making overtures to BlackBerry for its mobile device management software services division for nearly six months. The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday reported on the company’s efforts.

In a comment to the AJC, BlackBerry said the company does not comment on rumors or speculation.

While BlackBerry is known more among consumers for its smartphones, its services division has been just as crucial to the Canadian company’s survival, which has been in doubt in recent months.

Dabbiere said AirWatch could help breathe new life into the division by making its software more compatible with and compliant for non-BlackBerry devices, giving corporate customers more options in accommodating employees’ mobile devices.

The deal would also put AirWatch’s brand, which supports devices powered by BlackBerry, Google’s Android operating system and Apple’s iOS, in the hands of tens of thousands of new corporate customers.

“We explained our value proposition to some of their advisers, and we’ve explained it to some contacts that we’ve had within BlackBerry,” Dabbiere said Tuesday. “We have not heard back. We just want to continue to let them know what our position is and that we are interested.”

Dabbiere would not give a price tag for the BlackBerry division but referred to the $877 million valuation he said Evercore Partners analysts Mark McKechnie and Zachary Amsel have placed on the unit.

“I’m not saying that I’ve worked out all the details, but I’m confident we can have a transaction that makes sense,” Dabbiere said. “We’ve got a tremendous amount of institutional [investment] interest in us. I’m confident we could put something together if we come to a deal.”

Earlier this year, AirWatch secured a $200 million investment from Insight Venture Partners. The company said the funds would be used for strategic acquisitions to accelerate global growth.

In June, the company announced it had acquired Motorola Solutions’ mobility services platform, and its 1,500 customers, to enhance AirWatch’s mobile management platform. Dabbiere said AirWatch has about 9,000 enterprise customers, while he estimates BlackBerry’s enterprise customers exceed 100,000.

The battle for enterprises customers - corporations, public and private institutions and organizations - is fierce given employees’ increasing reliance on smartphones, tablets and laptops. Global smartphone sales, for example, were up 46 percent to 225 million devices in the second quarter compared with a year earlier, according to researchers at Gartner.

The growth in mobile devices, however, also creates more security challenges for corporations, which is where AirWatch and its competitors come in.

AirWatch’s rivals include MobileIron, BoxTone, FrontRange and SOTI and Cytrix. While it was not immediately known whether these companies have expressed an interest in BlackBerry’s mobile software business, other companies have expressed an interest in parts of BlackBerry. They include Google, Cisco Systems, Microsoft Corp, Apple and Lenovo. BlackBerry, however, has rejected proposals to break up the company.

Just last week, BlackBerry and its largest shareholder, Fairfax Financial Holdings, which unsuccessfully tried to acquire the company, announced a deal to raise $1 billion in cash by selling debt to a combination of Canadian, U.S. and Qatari investors.

AirWatch could face an obstacle in acquiring the services business. BlackBerry’s new chief executive officer, John Chen, former CEO of software data company SyBase, signaled to the Associated Press that the company would be emphasizing software and services. “We’re really not in phones but we’re in phones for software, for services,” Chen said.

Dabbiere insists companies are not embracing BlackBerry’s new Enterprise Service 10 mobile management software, and that is hurting the company’s efforts to grow its smartphone business. He said AirWatch’s mobile solution provides the latest improvements in app management and security, content management and browser security.

Dabbiere said BlackBerry is running out of time in rescuing its software services. “It’s going from being a melting ice cube to a melting ice cube in boiling water,” he said. “If they don’t’ react quickly and save the value in that business it’s going to be too late.”

The AirWatch chairman said the company, which has 1,500 employees with about 1,000 of them in metro Atlanta, continues to grow locally. Earlier this year AirWatch announced it was hiring more than 800 people to accommodate its growth. “We’re probably a little bit ahead of schedule in hiring,” Dabbiere said.

”We’ve already grown a little further in our existing building and eventually with this kind of growth we’re going to run out of space,” the chairman said of its location on Perimeter Center West in Sandy Springs. He would not say whether the company is looking for another location to accommodate the growth.