Last week I spoke to why Research in Motion’s centric strategy would fail. Now that more details are out, I think we can conclude that the plans RIM’s leaders have devised are exactly 180 degrees from what they should be doing.
Let’s explore the problem with RIM and what a successful strategy might look like. They are actually onto something—they just got it completely wrong.
The Problem at RIM
It is said that if you are a screwdriver company you’ll look at every problem as if it is a screw. RIM, at its heart, is an IT company in a consumer-driven world, which is a formula for obsolescence. So the problem is that RIM, which has a product once so desirable it was called the “crackberry,” has lost its customer base.
I covered RIM’s initial success closely, and I find it ironic that IT didn’t drive the company into the market, but rather it was the executives who found the early two-way pagers irreplaceable that RIM targeted. In short, RIM started out, much like Microsoft did, as a user-focused company and then lost its way.
Now RIM is pressing a strategy to focus on IT and partner for the consumer side, but that’s a losing bet. Think of the likely partners—the best consumer company is Apple and it has a phone. Second is Samsung, which also has a phone, followed by HTC (it has a phone) and LG (it has a phone) and on down the line. In short, outside of retailers like Amazon and carriers, there are few options for consumer-side partners outside of Nintendo (even Sony has a phone), and doing a gaming pure play with Nintendo would likely kill the IT side.
On the IT side, with systems management RIM would go head to head with IBM, Dell, HP and a host of companies with deeper roots into IT than RIM has but no phones. So you would think that the more successful strategy would be to go to these companies, all of which have largely tried and failed with smartphones and tablets, and partner with them for IT while handling the consumer segment yourself because partners there just don’t exist.
Amazon, with a set of services that largely match or exceed Apple’s, may be the lone exception, and it doesn’t have a phone. Amazon is also the largest online retailer in the world, so a partnership there might be doable.
But in the end, if RIM tries to partner on consumer and drive IT, it will be swimming upstream. Given how weak the company already is, that likely won’t end well.
Be Willing to Do What It Takes to Win
The fact RIM chose a strategy based on how easy it would be to execute rather than how successful it would be suggests that the company’s leaders have a substantial passion deficit. If you are passionate about something, you are willing to do whatever it takes to get it done. For instance, Steve Jobs went on bended knee to Bill Gates, tricked HP’s Carly Fiorina, and even initially pitched products he knew were junk in order to pull Apple out of a ditch. There was little he wouldn’t do, few rules he wouldn’t bend, and, unfortunately, no one he wouldn’t threaten to get the job done and he took a company in worse shape than RIM is now and turned it back into a market darling. It takes drive, heart and guts to make those kinds of moves, and if RIM’s executive team just isn’t up to the hard fight they likely could save us all a lot of time and effort and just give up and go home.
You see, if you aren’t going to play to win there really is no point in playing, and RIM’s investors, employees and customers would be better off cutting their losses and moving to a platform whose stewards cared about enough to protect.
What It Takes
The iPhone is far from the perfect phone. And much like Apple did in its anti-Microsoft “Get a Mac” campaign, RIM needs to get customers to become dissatisfied with their iPhones. There are a number of promising attack vectors I’m seeing.
By channeling Apple’s assault on the PC brand or the tactics politicians employ in their campaigns and coming out swinging at the iPhone’s shortcomings, RIM could position the Blackberry successfully against Apple.
The lesson here is that if people want to be successful, they must start by defining their problems and goals — they don’t start by articulating the strategy they would most like to execute. You need to match the strategy with the problem and goal and then have the heart to do whatever—and I do mean whatever—it takes to execute it. The landscape is littered with dead companies that didn’t have the direction, will or guts to get the job done. The direction RIM needs to take couldn’t be clearer, the partners better defined, and the resources necessary to win more pronounced.
Rob is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. Previously, he was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group. Prior to that he worked for IBM and held positions in Internal Audit, Competitive Analysis, Marketing, Finance, and Security. Currently, Rob writes on emerging technology, security, and Linux for a wide variety of publications and appears on national news TV shows that include CNBC, FOX, Bloomberg and NPR.