How to save RIM: Suggestions from the ZDNet peanut gallery

Assuming RIM's not-so-dynamic duo of Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis get tossed, the big question for the company remains: What exactly do you do with RIM?
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Research in Motion is an epic disaster. In fact, RIM might be the biggest train wreck in 2012. Late products, tablets without native email, a convoluted developer strategy and smartphones that just look dated created a parade of quarterly disasters.

RIM's latest quarter just drove the point home. It's so bad that rivals ranging from Amazon to Nokia and Microsoft have pondered a buyout. RIM's co-CEOs sound conciliatory and agreed to take $1 a year in annual salary. You get what you pay for.

Assuming RIM's dynamic duo of Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis get tossed, the big question for the company remains: What exactly do you do with RIM?

Shockingly, few folks we've talked to have a plan---even potential buyers. Step one is to toss the co-CEOs. That move will feel good for all of 10 minutes and then reality sinks in. There's no RIM strategy here, but folks have coalesced around enterprise and exiting software and maybe even hardware.

My fix for RIM goes like this:

  • Boot the CEOs;
  • End the charade that RIM is actually good at software, user interface and mobile operating systems;
  • Go Android;
  • Outsource hardware;
  • And double down on taking the things that made RIM great---security, enterprise servers and messaging---and take them to new platforms.

In other words, RIM becomes a software company that can take the BlackBerry experience---or at least the experience that mattered when RIM was in its heyday---anywhere.

And if I'm feeling cynical my plan B consists of selling the now below book value RIM to companies that need intellectual property. Google would love to have RIM's IP. Perhaps RIM can sell Google patents when it moves to Android.

While you can quibble over the logistics of blowing RIM apart the common theme boils down to one word: Enterprise. RIM needs to focus. It needs to be about business technology. And it needs to do something pronto or frankly RIM may not even exist in two years.

Macquarie analyst Kevin Smithen said in a research note:

RIM’s hardware business is losing money by our estimates as investments in BB7, BB10, Playbook 2.0 and now a US marketing push offset a services business generating around $1 in EPS (earnings per share) by our estimates. The company could consider outsourcing to or partnering with a larger device manufacturer and abandoning BB10 in favor of a full adoption of Android. This would make RIM a smaller but more profitable and sustainable business. We would like to see RIM’s Board refocus the company on building enterprise features for Android on top of its core strengths of messaging and security.

I did an informal survey of our ZDNet network and here's what we came up with. Consider us the equivalent of the Peanuts' suggestion box.

Jason Perlow:

Get out of consumer and focus 100 percent of the business customer. Forget game apps and go balls to the wall on enterprise. Anything that deviates from this mission is a distraction.

Jason Hiner:

1.) Make its backend high-security platform (BES) platform independent with client software that can work on every mobile device that walks into your office. Split the BES and device businesses the way Amazon has split the digital book and ereader businesses.

2.) Screw QNX (RIM stinks at usability and UI) and jump all over WebOS. Put it on killer hardware and become the third wheel in the global smartphone market.

James Kendrick:

Not much RIM can do. Whatever RIM tries needs to be radical. My suggestion would be to scrap the BBX (BlackBerry 10) and grab open-source webOS and start over. WebOS has roots with good keyboard support.

Steven Vaughan-Nichols:

I'd tell RIM's executives to bite the bullet and give up their delusions of keeping the old Blackberry OS alive and stop wasting money on trying to develop a new QNX-based BlackBerry OS. There are not enough ISVs around to support either one. Instead, they should be spending their research dollars on porting Android to their platform and start working on their marketing campaign. "The reliability of a Blackberry and the application richness of Android. You can have in all on the 2012 BlackDroid."

And, do it Now. There's no time left to waste.

Ken Hess:

Not just for RIM, but for any company in their position, I think it would be interesting for them to create a mirror service, such as Skype for people to use in addition to their physical device. The accounts between the two could be shared. I'm not sure RIM is worth saving but I can tell you that the first company to do something like this will win a huge fanbase. They will never be without phone service and can use their service on any device.

David Gewirtz (DIY IT)

Become a software-only company. The need for secure enterprise messaging is far from dead. But they’ve completely lost the war on handsets and tablets. Focus solely on hardened messaging and there’s a chance they can stay alive (although in a vastly diminished form).

That, or they could start producing iPad games, which is Microsoft’s current strategy. Heh. RIM shot.

Also: RIM’s Q4 outlook: BlackBerry shipment projections tank | RIM expected to cut BlackBerry sales targets | RIM CEOs respond about poor U.S. sales, BlackBerry 10 delay | CNET: Want a BlackBerry 10 phone? Don’t hold your breath

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