Research In Motion (RIM), the makers of BlackBerry, has been through a really tough year. Their stock is down more than 75% this year alone; they recently wrote off $485 million worth of their tablets; dealt with outages and service interruptions which reduced consumer confidence; and my favourite, had to deal with two drunken executives on an Air Canada flight to China. This is nothing but a short list of bad luck and missteps that have affected RIM in 2011, and I think it is time for a drastic change. Here I offer three suggestions that may not restore their fame, but would probably restore their health.
Sell, Sell, Sell
It looks like the end is near for RIM. 2011 marked their year of upsets and it looks like the road ahead isn’t paved. It is not impossible for RIM to make a comeback. Apple in the 90s made a huge comeback when Steve Jobs returned – taking the company from the brink of bankruptcy to the number one (or two) company in the world (in market cap). RIM should have sold earlier before their stock took a 75% hit this year, but the past is the past, and there is no time like the present. If the road ahead looks anything like the path travelled, I don’t think their stock will be stable. RIM still has tons of valuable assets – patents, BlackBerry Messenger, QNX, etc. – and those assets could flourish merged with a healthy ecosystem such as Android. BlackBerry already leverages apps designed for Android, so why not finish the job and consummate this marriage. RIM turned down Amazon’s offer to merge, wanting instead to revive the company with new BlackBerry devices, strengthen product offerings, and company restructuring. RIM better decide soon if they want to sell. After turning down multiple bids for the ailing BlackBerry maker, the next bid will surely be hostile.
The CEOs Are Dead. Long Live the CEO!
Let’s face it; the founders of RIM aren’t doing the best job of steering this company in the right direction. I will admit, without Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, RIM wouldn’t have been a successful company, but I think the duo has brought the company as far as they can take it. RIM needs a new leader with great passion to reinvigorate the brand and give new meaning to BlackBerry. This new CEO should bring focus back to the company. He or she should whittle the product offering to three key devices, leverage their strengths (i.e. BBM, security), get rid of the PlayBook, get BB OS 10 on most of the devices, and give up dreams of a touchscreen only device. RIM is the only one that makes a pretty mean tactile keyboard; marry that with a touchscreen and a better interface, and I think people will be happy. All of these things will need to be done on a tight schedule, so the new CEO cannot afford any more hiccups.
Sometimes we have to face reality and realize there is no coming back. RIM may never reach the same height of yesterday, just like Yahoo and Nokia are still struggling to stay relevant. I say if you can’t play the game, pick a new one. We can’t be good at everything, so why not play by rules that are better suited to our strengths. RIM should look into becoming strictly a business-to-business company. Many employees want to use different devices, even bringing in their own devices to work, and I think RIM could help manage them all. RIM could provide a system that allows companies to manage smartphone devices from one source and enable the same security on various platforms. RIM can also help with app development. With RIM’s acquisition of TinyHippos, they could offer developer tools in order to manage cross-platform app development. They should sell off their hardware side, open up a business-consulting arm, and service the future of business. Businesses are heading towards a mobile workforce, no longer limited by space and time, and RIM can help define that future. RIM already provides enterprise support for their BlackBerry devices so it is an area they already have expertise. IBM is a prime example of how switch from a B2C to a B2B model.
Whatever direction RIM decides to position the company I hope it is for the better. Waiting for Mike and Jim to bring down the BlackBerry maker is only going to lead to a hostile takeover. For RIM’s sake, I hope I’m wrong about the CEOs and they find a way to restore life in the company. After years of riding their one trick pony (secure push messaging), it is only a matter of time before it ran out of breath.