RIM Is Down - but Far from Out

Carl Weinschenk
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BYOD: User Policy Considerations

There are lots of posted blogs and articles lately on the potential fate of Research In Motion and its flagship BlackBerry. The immediate cause, of course, is the replacement of co-chairs and co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie with Thorsten Heins, who now is president and CEO.

It's a rather dramatic story. The iconic BlackBerry was the ultimate enterprise device until it was passed by Apple and Android. Now, of course, it is fighting for its life.

One of the more interesting takes is a study, here described at eWeek, that suggests that BlackBerry is not where it was in the enterprise - but it is far from nowhere:

When nearly 4,000 information workers were asked which operating system their work device runs, Apple, Android and Research In Motion's BlackBerry-despite all the funeral marches that have been played for RIM's brand of late-were shown to be used in roughly equal numbers, according to Forrester's Forrsights Workforce and Hardware report. Each held more or less a quarter of the overall market, with the final quarter going to an "other" category comprised of Nokia's Symbian, Microsoft's Windows Mobile and Windows 7, Hewlett-Packard's webOS, Linux and Samsung's Bada.

The takeaways are that momentum is as important in how the public feels about a company as its numbers and that Heins is not assuming command of a doomed enterprise. The New York Times, in an article detailing the problems BlackBerry is having in the U.S. and Europe, mentions that the company still is doing well in developing nations.

What can save BlackBerry is a simple thing: It is a good enterprise product. The key isn't the handset - which, of course, is not as glitzy as others' devices. It's the infrastructure to which those end points link. Experts say that overall management of the mobile experience through the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) still is the gold standard since it was built from the ground up for the enterprise. So this paragraph from the NYT story focuses on security, but it can be extended to the overall back end:

Mr. Heins believes that RIM's advantage in the business market remains the company's focus on security. He said that RIM regularly speaks to chief information officers, who say they do not like that Android devices and iPhones have become prominent in the work place.

Indeed, in a Bloomberg story on his takeover, Heins essentially said that the company had stayed too long with the antiquated vision of what is important to businesses and IT:

"When BlackBerry got positioned the way you experienced it, it was on a set of values: battery life, network efficiency, security and best typing experience," Heins said. "In the U.S. specifically, what we missed is a shift in those paradigms" to more consumer-oriented features like Web-browsing and apps, Heins said.

Heins seems to recognize that BlackBerry must appeal to a generation of millennial workers and folks who are accustomed to far flashier devices - and that it must do so against Android, Apple and, apparently, a Microsoft mobile program that shows signs of life.

That's a tall order and success is not guaranteed. But the good news to RIM is that its remaining strength can form at least part of an answer to a pressing problem facing IT departments: How can data and networks be secured and efficiently managed in this bring-your-own-device-to-work age? It is foolhardy to write off any company that brings something tangible to that discussion.

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