BlackBerry has had a mixed summer. Brightstar announced it has expanded its existing global distribution relationship with BlackBerry, made by Canadian firm Research In Motion (RIM), to include Singapore and Malaysia. Around the same period, as reported in The Wall Street Journal (Saudi Ban Rains On RIM’s Party, 4 August 2010) Saudi Arabia ordered a ban of BlackBerry services.
Saudi Arabia joins the United Arab Emirates, India and other governments that have blocked, or threatened to block, BlackBerry’s data transmission features, including e-mail and instant messaging. These countries want greater access to encrypted information, citing national security concerns. RIM has so far resisted in the name of customer privacy and not wanting to give any government special treatment.
Globalization is prompting companies to take on greater international exposure than ever before. The BlackBerry case throws up two specific but intertwined issues.
Regional conflicts, international terrorism and cyber attacks are real and persistent threats to the security of governments and the continuity of global business. At the same time, government intervention in the business world in the name of national security is on the rise, as well as chaos in the financial markets over the last number of years, has shifted power in the world economy away from business and towards governments.
BlackBerry’s developing situation exemplifies the complexity of the supply chain in the shifting sands of the global economy. The rise of smart phones has resulted in a rise in communication and the exchange of data amongst business users worldwide. But as this kind of enterprise mobility rubs up against national security and increasingly interventionist governments in countries that are part of global trade, it threatens to disturb commerce and disrupt supply chain management.
One of the ideas behind smart phones is to unfetter business people from their desks and offices. Supply chain executives can now move freely with smart phone in hand and interact with suppliers, resolve inventory problems, and manage their businesses and supply chains on the go. If companies like BlackBerry fall foul of national security concerns in some countries, supply chain managers will all have to give greater consideration to political risk in their ongoing operations.