What likely was way overdue Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie stepped down as co-CEOs of RIM. However, in an unusual twist, they were also responsibly for selecting their successor, COO Thorsten Heins, a five year RIM veteran. Needless to say, the overwhelming reaction to this selection was not positive as many expect 'much of the same' with insider Thorsten at the helm (one viable scenario to move forward with an Heins is that he would be better positioned to set up RIM for a sale). RIM as the next Kodak is the easy observation to make here. And while RIM clearly has its work cut out for it and the prevailing trends are pointing in the wrong direction the rush to dismiss RIM and its iconic BlackBerry brand is premature.
So what should be on Thorsten's short list?
1. Refocus on the North America market. RIM has clearly been making strides in markets outside of North America. While that is clearly important and should continue to be a focus for RIM, it has come at the expense of their core North America business. However, at the end of the day, smartphone brands are established and validated in North America. Not having a seat at the table comes at a major cost.
2. Hire Fresh External Marketing Talent. Much has been the made about the turnover in RIM's marketing department and rightly so. It has been too long since RIM users expressed a truly visceral experience with their BlackBerry devices. Remember CrackBerry? What is painfully clear is that RIM is at its core an engineering company and has grown up marketing and messaging to similar engineering/IT types within enterprises and government organizations. RIM's focus on pushing 'Flash' with its PlayBook launch is perhaps the prime example of this. It is not only that consumers have greater influence with technology decisions today but the marketing department within organizations has similarly usurped power and influence from the IT department on key mobile solution discussions. RIM has missed that transition and will now need to aggressively close the gap.
3. Speeds and Feeds Comparisons are Less Impactful Decision Criteria. The PlayBook may be a great piece of hardware but these devices are not purchased on speeds and feeds comparisons. It is not about Flash. It is about the experience individuals have with these devices and the extended (apps) eco-system available to truly leverage these connected devices. Not having native email with PlayBook 1.0 was a major oversight. While PlayBook 2.0 (when its released) represents a massive upgrade, developer support for this platform is in need of a major boost. Another key issue - especially for core enterprise customers - is that security concerns no longer represents the barrier to mobile investments it used to. While security is clearly still a 'concern' or 'consideration', it is mostly no longer keep organizations from investing. RIM was able to successfully leverage thier best in class security to mitigate these concerns. With other platforms closing the security gap, RIM's security advantage is being marginalized.
4. Retrench in Core Enterprise and Government Segments. While this may seem somewhat counter-intuitive to the previous points, the fact remains that RIM continues to have a major marketshare footprint in many Enterprise and Government segments. While difficult, it is possible to speak and appeal to both corporate and individual decision makers. Their devices need to be great consumer devices, however, at the same time, provide all the management, security and support capabilities necessary in corporate environments.
Time is likely not on Thorsten's side. While he will need some time to put together his own strategy for the company moving forward the key will be execution. There is little room for failure and RIM will need to hit all its key milestones. Especially the pending PlayBook 2.0 and the launch of BB 10.0 later this year.