The Churn and Roil At RIM

There are few pieces out this morning describing possible changes coming to RIM. One set of rumours sees Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis losing the co-Chairman role. Another says they are out altogether, and Barbara Stymiest will be named Chairman. At the same time, a rumour has surfaced that RIM is going to try to licence Blackberry 10 to other handset makers. The shakeup at the top isn’t exactly surprising. What is a bit perplexing is why anyone would want to add BB10 to their stable of operating systems. But, first the changes at the top.

If Balsillie and Lazaridis are indeed gone completely, then this addresses part of RIM’s problem. Having Stymiest as chairman isn’t the worst idea, but her largely financial background (she is currently with the Royal Bank of Canada, and was previously the CEO at TMX, which owns and operates the Toronto Stock Exchange) makes me wonder if the point isn’t to turn the place around, but to find a buyer and sell off what they can. She has no experience at all with product companies. There is no manufacturing experience on her resume. She has never worked for any place that deals with wholesale or retail distribution. That makes me think that the next step will be some kind of sale, either in parts or the whole. If the goal was to salvage the company, then there are other executives who have actual manufacturing and distribution experience. That would have made some sense. Putting a finance person in charge of the board is not the way to run a manufacturing company. What will be very telling is who replaces Balsillie and Lazaridis, if they are indeed out. A CEO with more finance than manufacturing, or one with a background in cost-cutting (e.g. Al “Chainsaw” Dunlap) is further evidence the goal is liquidation and recovery of cash from assets.

As for the rumour about licencing BB10: who would bother? These manufacturers already ignored WebOS and have only put forth a minimal effort on Windows Phone. Samsung, named as a potential licensee, already has 3 operating systems in their stable (Android, Windows Phone, Bada). HTC has put a lot into the Android basket, as well as some commitment to Windows Phone. I simply don’t see the benefit of licensing an operating system that has yet to prove itself, and one targeted at a platform people and enterprises are abandoning.

I could see possible interest in maybe picking up support for Blackberry Messenger and potientally Blackberry Enterprise Server. But the rest of the ecosystem is, at this point, largely worthless. The platform has an order of magnitude fewer apps in its app store. Most developers have no interest in Blackberry. Putting the software on other handsets won’t change that. App developers are primarily concentrated on Android and iOS, with some also supporting Windows Phone. Both Android and iOS offer some chance of success, given the tremendous number of downloads they experience on a daily basis. Windows Phone has become a moribund platform, but is at least holding steady with their sliver of the market. Blackberry is dying. New handsets from other brands won’t change that. Who wants to spend time and money building apps for a platform that is circling the drain?

If you add these rumours up together, what it sounds like is a company positioning itself to be a technology licensing company, with some parts sold off, or perhaps the entire company sold to another entity. Either way, the company probably gets out of the hardware business, either through a sale or shutting down that part of the company. And either way, Blackberry disappears into the bowels of something bigger.

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