The unthinkable happened. During the week when Apple's new iPhone 4S ships, and the week prior to an announcement of Google's Android 4 (aka Ice Cream Sandwich), Research In Motion experienced a three-day service outage that impacted millions of customers around the world. A switch in the company's UK NOC failed, and its failover procedures also failed, and messages were queued up for days, stuck, delivered irregularly if at all.
On Thursday, RIM had everything working, the company's co-CEOs issued apologies, talked to the press, but were still not very forthcoming with what was behind the failure, saying only that they are performing a root cause analysis, that co-CEO Mike Laziridis personally orchestrated efforts to remedy the problem, and that nobody had gone home since Monday, all in an attempt to simply fix the problem.
By then, service had largely returned, but RIM was left with its biggest challenge yet in a year filled with them. Its service happens to be one of the core pillars of its offering, a differentiator that matters greatly, at least to information workers and their IT shops. If the RIM secret sauce fails, and the company is at a loss to explain it (some customers complained that they learned everything from press reports), it doesn't leave RIM much wiggle room.
On Thursday's conference call, the co-CEOs were both cryptic and dismissive. In all honestly, many of the questions lobbed at them exposed the public's misunderstanding of what RIM offers its customers, and what those customers value. By the end of the call, it seemed as if the press understood that RIM's architecture was almost purposely built to confuse people, and to fail. The executives didn't do much to help themselves in this regard, but at least the apology felt genuine. Certainly unplanned outages happen. Certainly RIM's service is complicated. Certainly it's been a long week.
Next week RIM holds its U.S. BlackBerry Developer's Conference. It's certain the company didn't want to spend its time at this gathering talking about its failures. Certainly it wanted to talk about converting Android apps to Android apps for the BlackBerry Playbook, or enticing developers to bring games and other apps to the BlackBerry platform. To furthering the discussion of QNX.
Now investors aren't happy, customers are livid, or, at best, befuddled, and developers must be scratching their heads thinking about why they might be hitching their fortunes to a company that, lately at least, can't seem to get much right.
Let's hope that next week, Mike Laziridis and Jim Balsillie take the stage, draw out a diagram of how the system's architecture works, walking everyone through every detail of what went wrong, and mapping out all of the steps it is taking to prevent it from happening again. Let's hope it draws on its coffers to give carriers and their customers service rebates. And let's hope that there's a better plan for the future.