BlackBerry to buy messaging alerts firm AtHoc to expand software base

A file picture of Blackberry CEO John Chen speaking during their annual general meeting for shareholders in Toronto, Canada last month. PHOTO: REUTERS
A file picture of Blackberry CEO John Chen speaking during their annual general meeting for shareholders in Toronto, Canada last month. PHOTO: REUTERS

TORONTO (REUTERS) - BlackBerry Ltd said on Wednesday it is buying privately-held AtHoc, a provider of secure, networked crisis communications, as it moves to broaden its software offering and generate revenue from its BBM messaging service.

California-based AtHoc's services are used by a number of top clients including the U.S. Department of Defense, Homeland Security and a host of blue-chip companies, to provide software that seamlessly allows them to reach staff via their smartphones, or via digital displays, radios, and even sirens, in times of crisis.

Its services help organizations and people share information during business continuity and rescue efforts.The terms of the transaction, which is expected to close by November, were not disclosed.

"AtHoc is an alerts system, but it also needs richer content and that can be provided by BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), which offers not just text, but voice, picture and video sharing, so we can provide a much richer experience to their clients," said BlackBerry Chief Executive John Chen in an interview.

The deal is the latest in a string of acquisitions made by the smartphone pioneer, as it pivots to focus more on software and turn around its faded fortunes.

Earlier this year, Mr Chen said he saw a part of the company's targeted software revenue growth in the current fiscal year coming from acquisitions of companies that will allow it to sell more value-added services.

In April, Ontario-based BlackBerry announced plans to acquire privately-held software maker WatchDox, which secures files. Its services are used by some of the world's top federal agencies, private equity firms, and a slew of Hollywood studios.

This followed last year's buyout of Secusmart, a German firm that specializes in voice and data encryption and British tech start-up Movirtu, whose software allows users to have two phone numbers on the same device with a single SIM card.

"AtHoc, with its messaging alerts, is the next piece in the puzzle," said Mr Chen, noting that the firm has some large marquee clients that compliment BlackBerry's own customer base.

The acquisitions made so far have helped BlackBerry ramp up its portfolio of services that cater to the needs of its core base of clients, such as corporations and government agencies. "Becoming part of BlackBerry will give us the ability to scale more quickly to expand our global reach and introduce new applications for the AtHoc platform," said AtHoc CEO Guy Miasnik in a statement.