A Glimpse At RIM’s Direction?

Today, RIM announced two new executives to join their team. The new COO is Kristian Tear, whose experience at Sony Ericsson included a significant amount of sales and marketing, particularly for retail. The new Chief Marketing Office (CMO) is Frank Boulben, and his experience may be an intriguing glimpse at RIM’s real direction.

Two Men With Deep Wireless Experience

Mr. Boulben’s experience hasn’t been in retail/consumer products. He has been involved in sales and marketing, but for infrastructure-type products. His most recent position was a LightSquared, with provides wireless infrastructure. Prior to that, he was a Vodaphone, dealing with wholesale roaming sales and general strategy around pricing. Basically, he has zero experience in marketing and brand-building for end-user and consumer products. What he sells is infrastructure and partnerships.

The new COO, Mr. Tear, appears to have some experience with consumer products with his background with Sony Mobile/Sony-Ericsson. But from I can tell, he doesn’t have a strong background in product development (and in case no one has noticed, Sony-Ericsson didn’t exactly set the world on fire with the products). But what he does have is experience in senior management and operations for a wireless handset manufacturer. He is also coming from outside RIM, so he may bring a different perspective on product development.

A Peek At The Future?

But the more interesting part comes back to Mr. Boulben. There are two possible paths. One is that he has always had a desire to move into marketing consumer and end-user products, and this is a chance for him to show what he is capable of. Sometimes people want a change, while drawing on skills they already have.

What I think is more likely is that RIM wants Mr. Boulben’s experience with infrastructure and partnership building. RIM appears determined to try some kind of partnership for their technology. Frank Boulben may be the guy with the right experience to make that happen. Some of that partnership could involve providing infrastructure as a service, rather than trying to licence their operating system. This could be a good play for RIM, since it builds off of one of their core strengths. It can take advantage of their new CMO’s experience in making these sorts of things work.

Their new CMO is not going to remake their moribund product line. He is not the guy to come up with a well-designed branding scheme for a consumer product. He does not have experience in designing consumer product, or understanding consumer product (at least any more than anyone else might have). But he does bring a wealth of experience in putting together technology partnerships and technology interconnections. If that is truly the direction RIM is going to take, then he appears to be the right guy for the job.

Play To Remaining Strengths

RIM needs to play to the strengths they have left, and these two new team members should be able to help with that. RIM has effectively lost the handset market. The opportunity to retain it was lost at least 2 years ago. But RIM still has a strong story on infrastructure (like BES), supporting services (like BBM) and security. It will mean a greatly reduced RIM, and they could raise some cash by selling off parts of the patent portfolio, but it means that they continue to exist.

They could use this time as an opportunity to reboot. I still think that, if they want to stay in handsets, they should adopt Android (and the catalog of apps and content that comes with it), and use their strength in security to help harden it. They’ll need to find someone (or a team of someones) that is very strong in industrial design, and I think the Blackberry name will have to be retired. But RIM could still have something to offer, and take a leadership position, in the Android space.

But for the short term, focusing on what they still do well would help them continue to survive (and maybe even thrive) while they potentially retool the handset side of the business. Their new COO and CMO appear to be the right people to build on their strengths in things like infrastructure.