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While RIM certainly has no shortage of issues it faces and tough decisions it will need to make the predictable "doom and gloom" chorus following its recent financial announcements are wildly overstated. RIM remains THE enterprise smartphone platform for serious deployments where security is paramount. Moreover, BlackBerry's leads the market in terms of enterprise smartphone marketshare. However, with consumers playing a greater role in enterprise mobility investment decisions (at least when it comes to the device) the homogenous BlackBerry deployment is increasingly looking like a thing of the past. Therefore, the key challenge for RIM - and for any smartphone vendor - is designing devices that appeal both to the consumer AND the professional.
However, there is much more to a successful enterprise mobility strategy than designing "cool" devices. And this is what is frequently overlooked when RIM is evaluated. On this premise I made some interesting observations while attending BlackBerry World from May 4-6.
1. Multi-platform device support. Perhaps the most surprising - yet critical - announcements at BBW was the acquisition of ubitexx GmbH, a Munich-based MDM vendor. The ubitexx product will be integrated with BES and will provide support for iOS and Android-based devices. As previously stated, the days of a BlackBerry only corporate/government environment are numbered. RIM's has significant capital in its security and management solutions. This new solution lets RIM’s business clients use certain elements of the company’s BlackBerry Enterprise Server and BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express to secure iOS and Android devices and tablets through a Web-based console. This addresses a significant void in RIM's arsenal and enables it to extend its market leading security solutions to a broader selection of devices. While there are challenges with this move - RIM will now be in direct competition with some of its MDM partners - it was an important move and improves RIM's position as a solutions organization.
2. Leveraging RIM's enterprise mobility capital. Marketing and promotion has clearly not been RIM's strong suit. It is at its core an engineering company. The company's marketing department is also going through transition (CMO Keith Pardy resigned in March). While the company's marketing focus of late has been centered perhaps more on capturing the consumer's attention, it is missing an opportunity to share its experience in core enterprise and government customer segments. RIM knows as much - if not more - about the requirements of delivering secure and robust mission critical mobility solutions. While at BBW I was able to interface with many of their key customers - from Department of Homeland Security and Department of Transportation to Vanguard Health and British Airlines. Understanding the technical AND operational issues facing decision makers in these industries is what sets RIM apart in my opinion. However, that knowledge does not bubble up to the surface frequently enough and is not leveraged effectively enough from a promotional and messaging perspective.
3. Playbook will have a role in the enterprise. To be clear, the Playbook has issues, perhaps none more important than the dearth of applications available for this new QNX-powered platform. Other widely documented issues include the lack of native email and the fact that RIM probably pushed out the device a little too early (three software upgrades in the first couple of weeks of release is generally a good indicator of that). However, the Playbook has a lot going for it including the best in class display, enterprise class WiFi (3G/4G versions are due later this summer), Flash and HTML5 support and the 7" display size will be unique and comfortable to hold in one hand for highly mobile workers.
4. Operating System Confusion. There will likely be some confusion surrounding RIM's OS/platform strategy over the next 12-18 months. The Playbook runs on QNX, its current smartphones are running BB OS 6.x and RIM intends to release 7.0 this summer. Finally in 2012 smartphones and tablets are expected to migrate on one platform. Enterprise decision makers and developers are especially averse to uncertainty in mobile platform/OS roadmaps and lifecycle support of these platforms. RIM will need to share more about how it intends to roll these out and what the impact will be for customers and partners.
While it cannot be denied that RIM is faced with a number of critical issues and that its competitors are catching up, RIM remains a leader in the enterprise smartphone solutions and enterprise mobility market. Critical for RIM will be finishing - especially as it relates to marketing and messaging.