A Positive First Step For RIM

RIM’s announcement of their Mobile Fusion service is a hopeful, positive step for RIM, and perhaps the beginning of remaking the company. Despite recent failures, RIM still does have strong capabilities when it comes to building secure and scalable infrastructure. Yes, their recent outages are alarming, and point to potential problems in terms of complexity and perhaps even skillset (who knows what core skills have been lost courtesy of the downsizing, not because they got rid of key people, but some key people decided to leave because of the changes). To be fair, though, RIM has been running this type of infrastructure longer than companies like Apple, so we have yet to see how Apple handles some kind of massive failure. Even Google and Amazon have had their own problems, so it isn’t like massive outages in large, distributed systems have been restricted to RIM.

That aside, one of the strengths of the Blackberry has been Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) and the Blackberry Internet Service (BIS). These have allowed people to have industrial-strength integration with Blackberries and the rest of the corporate communication infrastructure (even if your “corporate infrastructure” is you using Google Docs and related services). Mobile Fusion is something that RIM should have started doing a year ago, when it became clear that their handset business was on a downward trajectory. I wouldn’t call Mobile Fusion “late”, but it is about time. I think this is an area where RIM could potentially succeed.

What I see is the opportunity for RIM to transform themselves from being a device-centric company to being an infrastructure-centric business. The next step would be integration of Blackberry Messenger (BBM) into the mix, and reach further into iOS and Android. If RIM can offer a fully-featured version of Mobile Fusion via both internal server installs and via cloud-based services (like Google Docs), then I could see it being an easy destination for smaller companies that need more than a feature-limited cloud version, but don’t have the budget or staff to run the service internally.

Barring some dramatic shift in the landscape, RIM will effectively be out of the device business in another few years. I really don’t expect QNX to change that, because as time progresses, RIM falls further and further behind when it comes to apps and content. If RIM wants to have a presence in the device business, then it would be better served to start on Android-based devices. That instantly gives them a large catalog of apps and a mature ecosystem of content. The reality is that, for now, the market is evolving into 2 main pieces: about 65% Android and 30% iOS. The remaining 5% will be divided up amongst a bunch of marginal platforms, of which QNX, BlackberryOS and Windows Phone are the most notable occupants. And RIM simply cannot count on it’s usual fallback, the enterprise market, to uphold it’s share. The Blackberry is now the number 2 device in enterprise, after iPhone, and it appears it will continue to dwindle in that space as well.

So, rather than trying to defend an untenable position, RIM needs to remake themselves. Certainly, they could stay in the device game. But I would suggest that moving to Android, and becoming the major player in infrastructure for it, plus offering rich and useful services to iOS, is a better play for the long term.

No matter what RIM does on the device end, Mobile Fusion could be a very positive step in the right direction.

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