Monday, January 23, 2012

RIM changes its leadership, but not its course

On January 23rd, 2012, Research in Motion (RIM) announced Thorsten Heins as President and CEO. Mike Lazaridis, former Co-Chair and Co-CEO becomes Vice Chair of the Board, and also Chair of the Board’s new Innovation Committee. Jim Balsillie remains a Director. Barbara Stymiest takes on the position of Independent Board Chair. Prem Watsa joins as a new Board Director. All with immediate effect. The complete press release can be found here: http://press.rim.com/release.jsp?id=5358

So what’s new, apart from the personnel moves summarized above? Based on the official press release and what was said during the company conference call, the answer is: not a lot.

Thorsten Heins stated that the top priorities for his first 100 days in office would be – in that order - improved marketing (with the appointment of a Chief Marketing Officer), and the strengthening of processes and execution.

He also made it abundantly clear that the emphasis for the new CMO (to be brought on board asap) was going to be very much on the consumer market, with a particular emphasis on making up lost ground in the US. By contrast, nothing was really said about RIM’s enterprise customer base, and how to shore it up in the face of increasing competition.

Those who were looking for a change in overall company or product strategy were disappointed. Thorsten very firmly stressed the company’s commitment to BB10 (described as not simply a new operating system, but a new platform) and PlayBook 2.0, and hailed the technical superiority of both. He also made it clear that RIM was not going to hive off any parts of the business, as having an integrated approach (hardware, software and services) is seen as a key competitive differentiator. Requests to license BB10 would be considered on a case-by-case basis, but hardware-only deals were firmly ruled out.

Improvements to resource planning and program management will no doubt be a positive move, if they lead to fewer product delays and more stable early releases of new software. And better marketing can’t do any harm, provided the product and service are right. But there is little sign as yet that RIM is bringing the developers round to its vision of the future.

In the near term, urgent action is needed to address the enterprise part of the business. Despite having lost market share in some countries, RIM still has a large number of enterprise customers. If it wants to retain these, the company must spell out very clearly the reasons why these customers should stay loyal. While RIM may still have the edge when it comes to certain corporate requirements, such as security and central management, the gap is closing, and RIM has to move fast.

The big questions remain: Is this management change too little, too late? And how much room to manoeuvre will Thorsten Heins really have, should he decide a change in strategy is required after all, with the shadow of Mike Lazaridis continuing to loom large?

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