Research In Motion has had a tough year, and the last month in particular was pretty rough on the BlackBerry crew from Waterloo.
The company booked a $485 million loss on unsold PlayBook tablets; saw the PlayBook hacked by researchers; experienced a dip in BlackBerry smartphone sales; fired two execs for (really) bad drunken behavior; and got beat in court over its BBX (nee, BB10) operating system name.
The company is facing a dire situation in the North American market that it needs to act on quickly. Many obstacles are standing in RIM's way on the path to success. Here's what RIM ought to do to circumvent those obstacles so it can reach 2013.
Get Rid of Balsillie and Lazaridis: Let's not beat around the bush. Research In Motion needs new leadership. As smart as co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis are, they appear to have lost a grip on what matters in the modern smartphone market. RIM helped define the smartphone, but hasn't set any smartphone trends for years. Despite sinking sales, sinking profits, and negative product reviews, the two CEOs have turned a blind eye to the company's troubles time after time and instead pointed to imagined future successes. Only those successes have never arrived.
RIM needs a single CEO with a strong vision to help drive the BlackBerry maker back to the top.
Dump the PlayBook ... for Now: RIM has wasted most of the last year putting the PlayBook tablet ahead of its smartphones. It needs to do the opposite. It needs to shelve any further development on the PlayBook or any other tablet-related products. The company has barely sold any, and has given them away by the thousands. The market isn't ready for the PlayBook (or the PlayBook isn't ready for the market). RIM can resurrect the PlayBook once other aspects of its business are back on their feet.
Prioritize BlackBerry 10: It should be no surprise that the company has lost traction with North American smartphone buyers. RIM has debuted just a handful of new devices this year, and many of them are retreads of older designs running platform software that is drastically out of date compared to Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.
RIM needs to focus on its smartphone business, because that's where most of its revenue comes from. RIM needs to get its entire team to finalize BB10 for smartphones. In addition to shelving tablet development, RIM should halt work on PlayBook OS 2.0 and instead make sure it can deliver the best possible experience in BlackBerry 10.
Find A Hero: RIM badly needs a smartphone that people will actually get excited about. RIM should strive to launch one, iconic device that will reignite the hunger of former CrackBerry addicts. If RIM can get a single hero product to market by June, it might have a better chance of surviving into 2013. Until it fields a device with a huge screen, great camera, 4G, and other modern smartphone essentials, buyers will continue to flock to Android and iOS.
(Related Note: RIM should NOT sell its smartphone business as investors and analysts have recently suggested. Relying on patent-licensing and services revenue will not work for such a company.)
Respect Its Rivals: Perhaps due to the hubris of Balsillie and Lazaridis, RIM's leaders seem to think other smartphones don't matter. The company needs to learn that the opposite is true. It can't continue to ignore or write-off the competition. RIM should be paying attention to what its competitors are doing, and learn from their successes and failures. As it is, the company hasn't learned from its own failures, let alone those of others.
Can RIM turn itself around? Well, I think that if RIM doesn't do the first thing on this list, then it probably won't do the rest. The leadership issue is the single most important obstacle facing RIM right now. It can't be ignored any longer.
The Enterprise Connect conference program covers the full range of platforms, services, and applications that comprise modern communications and collaboration systems. It happens March 25-29 in Orlando, Fla. Find out more.