What Now For RIM?

2012 was a trying year for RIM. It began by losing many of the key board members to retirement or resignation, swiftly followed by a slump in share prices and market share, ending the year with a delay in the release of its new operating system.

One issue of the magnitude of any of those would have felled lesser organisations, and to be honest could still spell the demise of RIM, but at this very moment in time it soldiers on. How has RIM survived thus far and what could the future hold?

The answer as to how RIM has survived so far, to me, lies very simply in its customer base. RIM and its solid devices have been the main stay of the vast majority of enterprises for quite some time now. Let’s face, it any of us working in large enterprises have at some point relied on a Blackberry for our e-mails and contact with the office.

Granted, devices from the consumer market are leaking their way into boardrooms, however, in the current economic climate, many enterprises are loath to throw perfectly good devices away simply to keep up with market trends. This was especially evident at the recent CES where Al Sacco noted that Blackberry’s were everywhere because the scanning devices used by exhibitors relied on Blackberry’s to gather the data.

Despite a loyal, or in some cases trapped (many governmental bodies have only approved BlackBerry as their mobile devices for security reasons), user base enterprises are beginning to lose patience and faith and are looking elsewhere for an alternative.

RIM is beginning to lose customers which leads me to ask what’s the big plan? How is RIM going to claw its way back to the top? The answer, to be honest, is that no one quite knows but that’s never stopped me adding my two cents before. So here is how I see the attempted come back taking shape.

1. Focus on the enterprise

As early as March last year RIM was stressing the fact that it would turn its focus back to its enterprise customers, reverting as it were to its safe place to plan its attack on the world of mobility. Since the announcement of Fusion, from where I sit, not much has happened. It feels like we have been waiting for an eternity for the new operating system whilst enterprises are bombarded with message from new kid on the block Windows 8.

That is where the fight is at for RIM. Microsoft has an enterprise heritage and won’t be frightened to use it. The focus on the enterprise makes complete sense to me for RIM, but I really think it will need to act and act soon as weeks and even days in enterprise mobility are like months in normal IT. Everything can change overnight and the chance for RIM seems to be fast disappearing into the distance.

2. License BB10

Just recently Thorsten Heins (RIM’s CEO) told a German newspaper that licensing the BlackBerry 10 software is “conceivable” if the platform fulfils its potential. Right now RIM seem to be focusing on its impending product launch and bringing customers new and old to the new devices and operating system. But I think this admission is a hint as to how good RIM believes the operating system is while also suggesting that Heins is open to survival at any cost. Investing in QNX was a huge move for RIM and in the right hands BB10 could revolutionise technology if RIM is the right hands remains to be seen.

3. Rename the app store

In a busy period for the PR team at RIM, it also announced that the company will rename its app store. Formerly known as Blackberry App Word, the store will now be known simply as Blackberry World. The store will not be limited to apps and will contain videos, music and, RIM hopes, everything a Blackberry user requires in terms of entertainment experience on their device.

4. Cram BB10 with applications

This freshly named app store will, RIM hopes, be crammed with new and useful applications. Low numbers of apps have plagued RIM for many years now and have in part lead to the slow uptake of the PlayBook devices. Right now RIM is promising that at launch the app store will have over 70,000 applications. This figure of course pales in comparison to both Apple’s and Google’s, but is an indicator that RIM has finally realised you need to win developers first and users second. The Port-a-thons where “RIM was offering $100 for each app ported” are just another part of this grand plan.

This may of course all be academic as RIM may have left it too late to act and may become a relic of a previous age. However, the sheer number of Blackberry devices which remain in the market mean that come what may, RIM is a name we will be hearing in enterprise mobility for some time to come. And thus mobile strategies for both ISVs and enterprises have to be able to cope when the CEO says “yeah that’s great but the sales team all have Blackberrys and we not are not buying new devices this year.”

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David Akka is Managing Director at Magic Software Enterprises UK. David is a successful executive manager with a proven track record as a general manager with a strong background in sales, marketing, business development and operations. Past experience in technology and service delivery include both UK and European responsibilities.