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4 tough challenges for RIM's new team

John Cox | Jan. 24, 2012
For the first time since its founding, Research in Motion has changed its top leadership, with a new president/CEO, a new board chairwoman and a new major investor who specializes in turnarounds. But can they save RIM?

Still missing: top-level marketing skills. Heins said in a conference call this week that finding a chief marketing officer who can breathe new life into RIM's marketing efforts is a top priority.

2. The strategy: Don't expect changes

Despite the calls for radical change, all three new leaders agree the current strategy, developed over the past two years or so, is sound: in effect, to recreate RIM around a new line of devices that exploit a new operating system, a new application development model centered around HTML5 and other Web standards, a bundle of services, and an expanding "ecosystem" of applications, with the option of running Android apps via a virtual machine.

Heins is emphatic that the decision to base all new RIM devices on the Neutrino realtime operating system, acquired by buying QNX Software Systems in 2010, was the right decision.

In the conference call, he disputed the idea that the QNX operating system was a "me-too" platform, trying to catch up to rivals. It's a proven multi-threaded OS, he said, widely used in a range of markets including automotive telematics and core Internet routers (it's the basis of Cisco's IOS XR software for carrier routers, for example). "It's not in a catch-up race," he said with a slight laugh. "It's very competitive."

RIM's PlayBook tablet in 2011 was the first RIM product to run it, and reviews of the user interface -- shaped by the design expertise of another RIM acquisition in late 2010, Swedish-based UI designers The Astonishing Tribe -- and of the underlying operating system were generally favorable [a YouTube video shows the UI in action]. RIM will release Version 2.0 for the PlayBook in February. The company plans to introduce a range of other products in the latter half of 2012, based on the QNX code, now dubbed BlackBerry 10.

As Heins noted, RIM isn't licensing another's technology, as Nokia is doing with Microsoft Windows Phone, nor building a new one from scratch as Palm did with webOS. Instead it can continue to refine the UI of a proven OS.

3. It's all in the details: Getting RIM to grow up

While Heins didn't overtly criticize his predecessors in the conference call, he made clear that the company's weaknesses are. One is execution -- getting a quality product to market on time and on budget. For several years, RIM has been plagued by product delays and other problems that stem from being unable or unwilling to bring a greater degree of discipline to product development.

"When I joined in 2007, RIM was growing and still acting as a startup," he said. "But startup processes don't scale." Since his appointment as COO, he's been focusing exactly on scaling a range of business processes, and said "we've improved a lot in the past 10 months."


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