RIM’s First Round of Cuts & Changes

RIM today announced that they were laying of about 2,000 people, and one of the 3 co-COO’s will retire. The remaining two will take on “extra responsibilities”. Everyone knew this day was coming. RIM had announced it would happen several weeks ago. It will still be a shock to the people who were let go, though. That is never an easy thing to experience.

While this move may buy RIM some time by reducing costs, it doesn’t address fundamental problems. RIM’s issues don’t have to do with headcount, it has to do with headspace. Specifically, the minds of the people behind the current line of floundering products. Did RIM have some fat to trim? Probably. You don’t get to be their size without ending up with a few redundant or unnecessary positions. But is it an underlying problem with the company? Not at all. The people who were let go aren’t responsible for the decline in marketshare, and the gains products like iOS have been making in RIM’s traditional turf, the enterprise market.

RIM’s problem is with their product. The people in charge seem to be unable to envision anything but the products that they are building now. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that they need a different vision. They need products people want, both in the enterprise and personally. Instead, we continue to see “same-old-same-old”, with the occasional nod to what iOS and Android are doing, and feeble attempts to catch up, rather than lead.

But how can they be different, rather than just copying Apple? First, there isn’t anything wrong in copying some of what Apple does. First, make it easy and compelling to build apps for you platform. Forcing app developers to support 2-3 different languages and soon-to-be 5(!!!) operating systems (4 different BlackberryOS versions plus QNX on Playbook) to have the broadest reach isn’t the way to win the hearts and minds of the people you need to make your product compelling. They need to get it down to one operating system, and maybe 2 different development environments (one for native apps, one for web apps).

Stop abandoning products that were only released a year or so ago. When BBOS 6 came out, it only ran on new devices. Even slightly older builds of the same model weren’t upgradable. Don’t force people to abandon nearly-new hardware just to get the latest operating system. They are more likely to abandon your platform entirely.

The biggest way to copy Apple: Stop thinking about Blackberries as “phones with smarts”. They are small computers that happen to make phone calls. This is a fundamental shift in attitude, and one that has to happen if RIM is to survive.

Do you want to lead where Apple doesn’t? How about offering developers more money on their sales. Don’t put restrictions on in-app purchases. Have a faster and more transparent approval process. Pay small developers using smaller thresholds, so that they don’t have to wait for $150 in sales to accumulate before they get their money.

As for the product themselves, one of Blackberry’s strengths has been the keyboard. So, get someone who has a talent for exceptional industrial design, and build a Blackberry with a touchscreen and some kind of slick, trick hidden keyboard. And for goodness sake, start building physical designs that look good. Really, really good. This isn’t a race to the bottom. Use glass and aluminum and beautiful designs.

For the enterprise, beef up BIS, so that small companies can get the benefits of Blackberry Enterprise Server, but without the rather hefty cost. Support e-mail directly on the device that doesn’t require either BIS or BES. Don’t force people to use BES or BIS if they don’t want to.

Put BBM on other platforms. Sure, it sounds like you’re helping your competitors, but learn from the iPod: it didn’t really hit its stride until it supporting Windows PCs. Yes, you probably won’t see a boost immediately, but BBM in combination with a rich app ecosystem (with hundreds of thousands of apps, who cares that people ignore most of them), may get people thinking about Blackberry on their next upgrade.

Work with someone to get media content on your devices: movies, TV shows, books, music, magazines, etc. This can’t be some tiny library of movies that were hot 5 years ago. This needs to be a library of current stuff, priced appropriately, to get people hooked on your machine. The various media publishers are looking for a counter to iTunes. RIM could potentially give them that.

But none of this happens with the current crop of individuals at the very top of the company. Apple fired their founder, staggered along under management equally unimaginative as RIM’s team, and only rebounded when one person with drive and vision came back to take the reigns. Ford stumbled and bumbled along until they brought in a new outsider who didn’t feel bound by old traditions and debilitating strictures. It’s time for the people at the top to be replaced with others capable of vision and imagination.