by Hamish Barwick

The Grill: RIM CIO, Robin Bienfait

Jul 30, 20125 mins
IT ManagementSmartphones

Preparing Research in Motion (RIM) for the future is top of mind for its CIO, Robin Bienfait.

The company was in the news recently when Australian airline, Qantas, reported that it would ditch its fleet of 1300 BlackBerry smartphones for iPhones.

This was a further blow to the company after RIM announced a first quarter loss of US$518 million in June 2012. Sales had dropped from $4.9 billion in the first quarter of 2011 to $2.8 billion. Chief executive, Thorsten Heins, announced that the company would shed 5000 jobs.

Bienfait, who has been CIO of RIM since January 2007, spoke with CIO Australia about the company’s restructure plans, bring your own device (BYOD) and some of the challenges she faces in the role of CIO.

There have been reports of planned job cuts at RIM, what is the rationale behind this?

The company needs to operate efficiently and be cost effective. Unfortunately, at this point, that means reducing costs and head count. That is why we are making difficult decisions now that some people may not completely understand.

We are committed to ensuring that the workforce reductions we make do not impact key programs such as the BlackBerry 10 platform, customer support or service levels.

When we come out of this transition, we will move forward with a lean and nimble organisation that can act quickly and that is aligned with our growth opportunities.

What is RIM doing to attract and retain enterprise customers?

Some [people] may not realise that 90 per cent of the Fortune 500 businesses around the world rely on BlackBerry offerings. In Australia and globally, protection of data and intellectual property [IP] has always been and will remain of key importance to corporations.

I was in Australia recently, and met with many of our business customers. They want us to succeed, and are focused on partnering with us through this transition.

What does a typical day involve for you at RIM?

I love hearing directly from our customers about their specific needs and discussing how the company can help gives me tremendous satisfaction. I am 100 per cent committed to using my experience and knowledge to exceed the expectations of our customers–that’s what I’m here for, and those are the values I pass on to my teams on a daily basis.

What are some of the challenges you face in the role of CIO?

Having a successful career isn’t just about working your way up the ladder. To me, a successful career is about gathering a wide variety of experiences, and really learning all of the parts that make a business run successfully.

In my experience, the most successful careers are built when people grow within their roles, and move laterally around a company to learn the ins and outs from all angles.

There’s no perfect path from A to Z in a career; the secret to success is not a straight line. I have had some amazing experiences in some of the most surprising places… different roles, jobs, and side tasks that have all helped round out my knowledge and helped me to become the leader I am today. I also enjoy networking with others to learn about their business, and how we can help one another.

What are some of the projects you have been working on?

In addition to spending time with our customers, I work with my teams to provide solutions that meet the needs of customers, including features and enhancements to products such as BlackBerry Mobile Fusion and the launch of the BlackBerry 10 platform. We expect the first BlackBerry 10 commercial launches to occur in the first quarter of calendar 2013 on a global scale.

What are the four biggest issues facing CIOs today?

I struggle with the same issues as everyone else — security, reliability, scalability and cost effectiveness.

Expectations are high as organisations grapple with how to best support the variety of applications and personal and corporate-liable mobile devices to satisfy employee demand. CIOs need to balance employee satisfaction with containing risk, reducing costs, and enhancing productivity.

What tips would you give CIOs when crafting a BYOD policy?

As a CIO, I know that organisations need standards for security and transparency. As CIOs respond to increasing requests to move to BYOD, the ability to manage security settings is paramount.

The cost of fragmentation and managing diverse platforms and security standards may be more than people originally estimate.

BYOD options are great, but the increased complexity of managing multiple device types in one organisation comes with a cost that often isn’t readily obvious. It doesn’t matter what business you’re in, there are always support, process and documentation requirements.

As more personal devices make their way into the enterprise, CIOs and IT administrators must contend with the privacy, security, and management of employee-liable devices. It’s not an easy task, and the mobility landscape is always reinventing itself.

What is your favourite gadget?

This one’s obvious! My BlackBerry smartphone and PlayBook tablet. Just like many of you probably are, I’m an avid multitasker. No matter where I am in the world, I’m always connected to what matters most to me: friends, family, our customers and my colleagues, and I rarely need to pull out my laptop anymore.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow CIO Australia on Twitter and Like us on Facebook… Twitter: @CIO_Australia, Facebook: CIO Australia, or take part in the CIO conversation on LinkedIn: CIO Australia