Secret CIO: RIM, What's Going On? - InformationWeek

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Government // Mobile & Wireless
10:38 AM
John McGreavy
John McGreavy

Secret CIO: RIM, What's Going On?

My company has a significant investment in your BlackBerry platform, but my return is starting to erode. Time to step up.

Research in Motion has had a rough ride this last year, the subject of many disparaging blogs and articles. We work in a trendy industry. We set trends, we follow trends, and we jump on and off the bandwagons. We thrive on "I have it and you don't" emotions and we relish those "I heard it first" moments. I admit it: I hate to be seen as hanging on to yesterday's lifestyle choices. But it's not just a hipster attitude at work. Consumer trends are having a profound influence on enterprise technology. And consumers appear to be leaving RIM behind.

I have a lot of respect for the little Canadian company that did. It created a reliable mobile communications platform that dramatically increased the speed of business. Remember Windows CE? Redmond couldn't get it right.

I read recently that if the data volume now handled by BlackBerry devices were to be processed by Android/iOS/other devices, networks would be crushed with the increased load. I don't know if that statement is true or not, but I do know that I value the cost management tools and capabilities inherent in the BlackBerry platform. I value the policy control. I value the ease with which it lets our organization manage company data. I value the commonality among devices, the ease of swaps and replacements, the battery life, and the stability.

[ RIM engineers just issued a troubling warning regarding the PlayBook's Android capabilities. See PlayBook Tablet: Retailers Cut Prices, RIM Cuts Hope. ]

I can't recall, however, when another product has fallen so far so fast. At least when the Sony Walkman was displaced by MP3 players, the new kids on the block offered a far superior technical product. And Sony chose not to compete but rather fight the emergence of the new technology. If you fight, you either win or lose. Sony lost. I get it.

But I don't get what's going on with RIM. What have you been doing with your cash? Based on your recent financial results, I suppose I won't need to ask this question for long.

I recently attended the InformationWeek 500 Conference in Dana Point, Calif. This conference attracts senior IT leaders from across the country. I saw many iPads, notebooks, iPhones, Android devices--and still many BlackBerrys--in use. But not one RIM tablet. Isn't the BlackBerry Playbook the first professional-grade tablet? So shouldn't some of us professionals be carrying one?

I have a Playbook, but it was given to me. And I didn't take it with me to the conference. I'd be too embarrassed to pull it out of its case. I'd know the glances that would come my way. I'd hear, "You really use that thing?" I shouldn't care what people think. And I don't really, if I thought the device was just the right thing to use. But no one carries a Playbook, and I bet most feel as I do.

RIM's tablet has its problems. The bridge connection to a BlackBerry handheld doesn't make much sense. It's a bit flaky. It does have some terrific design features--why can't every device have HDMI output? But it doesn't seem to matter.

At least not to developers, who continue to produce great apps for Apple and Android devices, but not for the Playbook. A tablet without applications is ultimately just an interesting bit of history. RIM made many promises in May of things to come. It needs to deliver.

I don't get it, RIM. What's going on? You've launched some new smartphones--is that it? My company has a significant investment in your platform, and I make decisions based on ROI. I've made the investment, and my return is starting to erode. Before long, my friends (and colleagues) will be laughing at me. (I hate it when people laugh at me.)

Hello? RIM? Hello?

The author, the real-life CIO of a billion-dollar-plus company, shares his experiences under the pseudonym John McGreavy. Got a Secret CIO story of your own to share? Contact [email protected].

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
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User Rank: Apprentice
9/29/2011 | 8:55:48 PM
re: Secret CIO: RIM, What's Going On?
Interestingly enough I've been wondering the same thing. The US is a fickle market as you point out. We want it to be trendy, sexy, so not yesterday's news and we don't want to pay for it. However, I believe that this is part of the allure of RIM - its not trendy, it just keeps delivering.

Not without its problems, RIM has enjoyed great press on its network and security. How many other providers were threatened by various sovereign states to have its service banned because it was "too secure" and they didn't have direct access to RIM servers?

My opinion is that RIM is not for the lemming masses as is iP*. If you want to appeal to the lemmings you have to make it dirt cheap and full of marketing traps that keep you moving from one platform to another or to keep buying apps which most gen Xrs are willing to do as they did dial tones.

RIM's strengths have always been in its business focus. The bottom line is that retail is where the money is. The retail market is interested in bread and circus and RIM doesn't exactly have a big offering either in handheld platforms or apps.

RIM can no longer try to squeeze utility out of its one model fits all customers sales and marketing or devices. I for one love my crackberry and am intrigued by the iPad. However the iPad and all other tablets lack one very important feature - no phone. To me it is pointless to have yet another wireless device unless I can access my providers cell network - NOT VOIP.

I am an engineer so I get all the challenges that go along with that, but I am still waiting. Having to tether my Blackberry to my PlayBook or my iPhone to my iPad is just plain lame.

Mobile device app developers are retail driven. They are looking for volume or a high end business venue. Writing business apps isn't "cuul" but creating the latest game that lands at the top of the charts is even if its just for a month.

Development platform ease is another issue. Developers are not going to chase after a platform if the development environment is arcane and a bummer to work with and get support for.

I think RIM can still pull out a winner if it acts decisively. It would be a real shame to see its network go on the auction block only to get sucked up by one of the megamonopolies in the wireless world.

I guess if I were at the healm I'd do the following:

* Lighten redundant capabilities within the core company including salary cuts for all management and cut all management that isn't contributing to the bottom line in a real and material fashion. Do NOT screw with the operations folks or key development. In fact make it clear to operations and development that you are making these moves to keep them going strong. Incent operations and development.

* Aggressively market the PlayBook with highly leveraged pricing on device and data plans. Its not too late to try and buy marketshare.

* Incent the development community to build applications for both retail and business markets. This includes free equipment and even market research on applications that may be sorely needed. Talk to your end users and prospects, do some real down and dirty product research and build what's needed.

* Fund a RIM incubator in several large metro areas that are known for their forward thinking and creativity. Don't just throw money at people - fund them. Be involved by providing product marketing research and direction without cramping their creativity. If someone comes in with an idea that is doable then do it.

* Develop a dual strategy for sales and marketing. Separate the business side from the retail side. Hire rockstars on each side of the sales planetary system and get down to business.

* Design devices that are really innovative at least every bit as good as the iPad in every respect. APPL's industrial design and engineering is fantastic. When APPL designs something its like the Art Deco period where form is at least as important as function if not more so. Don't cheap out!

* Do all of the above with gusto because the alternative is a slow (possibly not so slow the way you're bleeding cash) painful death. And at least if you fail, you fail and die with your guns blazing instead of wimpering in the corner.

Call it what you will. The ramblings of a madman or the harsh reality of things to come.
User Rank: Apprentice
9/29/2011 | 8:55:08 PM
re: Secret CIO: RIM, What's Going On?
Our users would much prefer iPhones and Androids to Blackberry!
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