It’s no secret that we’ve been heralding the death of Research In Motion (RIM) for awhile now. Some people have even suggested that we might be partially to blame for the whole fiasco. The truth of the matter, however, is that the tech world is only made better by having many strong companies working together (and sometimes against each other) to move consumer technology forward. RIM has often been a big part of that in the past, and if they can continue to be so in the future then we will all win. The problem is, however, that RIM is no longer contributing to the tech world and is only attracting the worst kind of attention with denial-filled death rattle.
All is not lost for RIM, though. Not yet. There are doubtlessly many possible things that they could do to pull this around, but here are the most obvious 5*.
#5. Get Rid Of This Guy
Thorsten Heins was named CEO after the previous two CEO’s (not “in a row”, two concurrent CEO’s) left the company. RIM was loosing market fast and everything seemed bleak, so the company did what was needed and made a large management change. Heins was put in the big chair and his first official statement about the state of the company was “Everything is good, RIM is working great. Let’s rock and roll this!” (I’m partially paraphrasing, but only barely).
I am not saying Heins is a bad guy, or even a bad business person. However, he has been at RIM for far too long to bring any sort of objective “outside the Blackberry box” thinking to the table. In his recent speeches and press releases he has repeatedly gone on about how strong the Blackberry brand is and how loyal the following is. Newsflash: IF LOYALTY WAS SYNONYMOUS WITH “HUGE”, FIREFLY WOULD BE ON EVERY NIGHT OF THE WEEK! You can have the most loyal fanbase in the world, ready to drink that Kool-Aid with you the instant federal agents start to storm the compound but it’s not going to amount to anything when it’s also one of the smallest fanbases. And most of your “fans” are only using your platform at gunpoint; corporate customers have no choice over what phones they’re issued!
The only way RIM can get out of this rut they’re in is to change up the culture inside the company. That needs to start at the top, and it can’t possibly happen when the marching orders are literally, “Continue as normal, everything is fine!”
#4. Cut Ties With Old Brands
Take a look at these two logos. One is for the company Research In Motion and the other is for their brand, “Blackberry”. From a technology insider’s point of view, they are one in the same. However from a typical consumer’s view, one is a failing company and the other is a brand they don’t know much about. Guess which one is easier to sell.
If credit is due anywhere, it’s RIM’s ability to market the Blackberry name on everything they could; their tablet is the Blackberry Playbook, their software is Blackberry Enterprise Server, their chat program is Blackberry Messenger. Nothing is RIM except the name of the plummeting stock price. What’s even better is that Blackberry is so non-descriptive that you could apply it to anything! You can’t look at a chat window and wonder “Is that an iPhone?” because an iPhone is a specific device and everyone in the world knows it. Blackberry, on the other hand, can be whatever they want it to be!
This is not an easy move but it isn’t without precedent in the tech world. A long while ago, IBM used to make laptops called ThinkPads and they were awesome. When IBM left the PC world behind they sold off the ThinkPad brand to a no-name Chinese company called Lenovo, who still makes them today. People still know what a ThinkPad is and their reputation as laptops are still as solid as every. Most people, however, have no idea what a Lenovo is . . . and no one really cares!
Cutting away the dead brand name would also go well with . . .
#3. Cut The Dead Weight
Unfortunately this means cutting jobs. Not to say that any employee is worthless or “dead weight” per se, but RIM has allowed certain areas of the company to wither and turn necrotic. At this point in the game it’s best just to cut the dead parts away so that the rest may live. RIM is already starting to do this with their many, MANY layoffs and since it isn’t public knowledge where the layoffs are coming from it’s possible this is already happening. Possible . . . but not very likely.
See, for over a year now they have been touting the newest version of their operating system, BB10. Promising to bring us exciting features that we would have been excited about two years ago, it is supposed to be the white knight for RIM. Except now they’ve pushed back their white knight to late 2013. The press immediately picked this up as a sign of trouble within RIM and so Problem #5 publicly announced that it would actually be released early 2013 and to not worry about it. Too bad it’s not that we’re worried about its release date and more still concerned they’re still releasing it at all.
The Blackberry OS has been bested in just about every way possible by every other mobile platform out there. One would assume that if those thousands of layoffs were going where they were most needed, we wouldn’t be seeing a release date for BB10 at all.
#2. Clear That Inventory!
We’ve previously reported that RIM is currently sitting on a $1Billion stockpile of hardware, ranging from phone handsets to tablets. Unless they are preparing for some sort of dystopian future where mobile electronics are a new form of currency, this means that things have gone horribly wrong. There’s no nice way to put this; they’re going to take a loss here. RIM can’t bring out new hardware while still trying to sell the old stuff, and they can’t update the old stuff to compete with rivals when their “updated” OS is still a year off! What they can do, however, is use it as a cheap way to get back into the public mindset.
I’ve floated the idea on a previous podcast episode and I’ll say it again here; donate it all! Even if they sell it for dirt cheap (and I mean dirt cheap) they have the potential to absolutely flood entire school systems with well-built, capable tablets. Imagine if every kid had their own Playbook with textbooks and lessons on it. Apple is about to get a major “IN” with school systems with their partnership with the major textbook publishers, and that’s something that RIM simply can’t compete with. If they were to give the hardware to the schools though, they could then get their own publishing deals. Would they make a huge profit? Not in the slightest. Would every kid know and love Blackberry? Yes (don’t underestimate that either, there’s a reason Apple has given so much to schools). Would you clear out your entire back inventory? You betcha. And when you’re looking at an inevitable loss, you could do a lot worse than to gain major PR points in the process.
#1. License What You Can’t Sell
RIM can’t make handsets anymore. It doesn’t matter if you’re a RIM fanboy and you know I’m wrong. It doesn’t matter if you’re deep within the RIM culture at work and it’s all you know. It’s fact.
And is it harsh, you bet. It’s also not RIM’s fault in the slightest. No-name Chinese manufacturers can pump out handsets with a free OS cheaper and faster than RIM can hope to even design one. That’s hard to go against and Nokia, Apple, and Microsoft all feel it too. RIM’s fault lies in it’s refusal to face that fact and move on. If they did, they’d immediately realize there is nothing to gain by keeping the handset divisions. They can’t sell it to anyone because everyone already does it better. They can’t license it because they have so little that other people aren’t already doing.
Their saving grace is Blackberry’s software. For better or worse, RIM’s software has become so isolated in its feature set that no one else can even compete with it. The problem is that the competition simply decided not to and moved to other areas instead (like the aforementioned OS or handset design). RIM needs to partner with companies who make industry standards and integrate themselves so deeply that no one has any choice but to use their service. There are many examples of this:
- Like iTunes? Probably not. It’s bloated, slow, and rarely gets your music right. But if you have an iOS device, then you have iTunes and there’s not much you can do about it.
- Work for a large company? You’re probably using Microsoft Office. You have no say in the matter, you just use it. It’s for this reason that Office is actually Microsoft’s money maker, not Windows!
- Work in a company that gives you an email address? Then you’re likely using Microsoft Exchange. If your company outsources its email, than their vendor likely uses Exchange. Like Microsoft Office, Exchange is a standard that everyone uses and no one has any choice about. It also means it’s something that everyone buys.
We use a service called Citrix Xenapp to publish certain applications to remote users. The system will allow up to 25 concurrent users to log in from anywhere in the world and launch an application that is normally behind the firewall. To purchase such a system we first had to buy the software, then the licenses for each server running it (3), then an additional license for each user (25) totaling up to 29 separate fees paid to Citrix. Now, Xenapp is built on a collection of other technologies that belong to other companies who get a fee paid to them for every license sold. That means that this other company, a company who’s name I don’t know and product I’ll never knowingly use, has just been paid by me . . . 29 times over.