RIM's survival means all business for BlackBerry

RIM needs to get back down to business in order to have a fighting chance for survival and continued relevance in the mobile industry.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

This morning, ZDNet's Editor in Chief, Larry Dignan, posted what I would describe as a group intervention for Research In Motion. The consensus from the ZDNet crew is that RIM needs to get back down to business in order to have a fighting chance for survival and continued relevance in the mobile industry.

Despite my reputation as being something of a RIM-basher, I want to just say this: when I was a BlackBerry user, I loved being a BlackBerry user.

In terms of how the device kept me in touch with my company and was able to keep all my appointments and contacts in check, there was -- and still is -- nothing better in terms of a replacement product that fills the function of what a BlackBerry does for an enterprise user.

So why did I leave the fold? Because I was instructed to terminate my service by my employer two years ago. BlackBerries were now reserved strictly for upper management.

The cost of maintaining so many of the devices in the field was just too high, and it became the target of an overall cost-cutting plan of less-than-critical expenses across the board.

Instead, I was issued a regular cell phone for making company calls and we entered a company-wide managed mobile plan.

Given that I was faced with having to purchase my own data communications device, I decided to go with a product that was more modern in terms of software and applications offered, an Android device. And I've been sticking with Android devices ever since.

My situation is not unique. Many companies are doing the same thing -- abandoning the BlackBerry phones in droves and looking at other solutions, such as iPhones and Androids to fulfill the same or similar role.

To be perfectly honest, I am not at all confident that Research in Motion can be fixed. I've already spelled out scenarios for which the company is likely to meet its end, why it has ended up in the place that it is now and what the significance of its demise actually means for the mobile industry.

But let's take a leap of faith here and say that RIM can be fixed. The question is how do you fix it.

Well first, you throw the two no confidence Co-CEO Bozos Lazaridis and Balsillie out the door and replace them with hungrier and more dynamic management that are willing to take greater risks.

But as Larry Dignan said, that will feel good for a whole ten minutes and then the real issue of what to do with the company is thrown front and center.

There are two primary areas of weakness where RIM has exposure now. In the consumer handset space, they are getting creamed by Apple and the Android hordes at a highly accelerated rate -- one which they have really no hope of regaining at all -- and are also losing a war of attrition to Apple and Android on the enterprise side at a much slower, but still damaging pace.

If I were the new management at RIM, I would immediately exit the consumer market in countries in which BlackBerry consumer handset product has been pushed into near irrelevance. This includes the United States.

I would halt production of consumer oriented handsets and only make enterprise-oriented ones, and I would also eliminate the BIS service as to take strain off the aging BES infrastructure which has shown severe issues with scalability and reliability in the last two years.

The PlayBook, which has become a total consumer flop, should also be pulled from the consumer market and actions should be taken to secure enterprise partners that can develop real business applications for it and the forthcoming BlackBerry 10 QNX-based handset OS.

This may include courting the SAPs and the Oracle's of the world, as well as specialized vertical integrators for key markets (Financial, Industrial, Communications, Transportation, Telecommunications, Government) that can go to town with the native C++ and the Webworks SDKs.

The BlackBerry network operations centers and the core infrastructure and software which runs the secure push messaging needs to be overhauled and optimized for the new QNX OS.

Additionally, this infrastructure needs to be made accessible to other mobile operating systems, such as Android, iOS and Windows Phone 7, in order to diversify RIM's income stream while QNX attempts to gain traction in the marketplace.

And I'll throw another thing out there -- the company may actually want to consider strategically outsourcing all of this NOC and datacenter infrastructure to an IT company that specializes in this sort of thing rather than trying to keep it alive just by itself in an effort to cut costs and focus on what they actually do well.

Finally, I'll add the painfully obvious to the list, which is preparing the company for asset divestiture. This may mean selling off the company in piecemeal fashion to firms like Google, Samsung and HTC, who will need RIM's mobile patents and other ICAP to defend themselves against further patent warfare from Apple and Microsoft.

I can potentially see Google wanting to buy the patents and perhaps the secure messaging infrastructure, whereas a company like Samsung or an HTC may only want the patents and the hardware. QNX would likely have to be divested to a separate concern, such as an automotive industry player that needed a real-time OS.

Certainly licensing of the OS to third parties is also an option, but I don't think that it would be particularly successful in bearing fruit.

A wholesale sell-off of the entire company to a single entity is not unfeasible, but as I have said in earlier articles, the company is probably worth more in pieces.

These are all difficult choices and would be radical changes from what the company is doing today. But if it wants to stay alive, it may very well need to consider one if not all of these things in the immediate months to follow.

Should RIM Get Back to Business in order to stay alive? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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