Investors and pundits have had their say on Research In Motion's recent management shakeup, and they're almost universally negative. The company's stock, which traded at more than $140 per share in 2008, now trades for about one-tenth of that. While worldwide sales of RIM BlackBerrys don't look that bad, the company's share of the U.S. smartphone market is plummeting, from 43% three years ago to about 6.5% today. Now that RIM co-founders Jim Balsillie and Mike Laziridis have given up their co-CEO jobs, handing the reins to former COO Thorsten Heins a couple of weeks ago, we wanted to hear what IT pros think about RIM's prospects.
More than 500 IT pros took our survey on RIM, and not surprisingly, what was once the dominant smartphone for U.S. business users is not-so-slowly being relegated to the IT history pages. When we asked about RIM's position in the smartphone market, just 1% of the respondents to our survey said the company is a leader positioned to grow its influence. Most respondents, 56%, said the company is a former leader, with its best days behind it, while 43% said it's a stronger player that's losing its lead.
More than a quarter of the survey respondents left comments about RIM's plight. Their sentiments wandered from sadness to anger to resignation. Their overarching view: Regardless of how they felt about RIM products, users are simply moving on.
One IT director in an educational institution put it this way: "The system is fantastic from the IT admin perspective but archaic and irritating to the user." Another summed it up this way: "BlackBerry used to be our dominant smartphone. BES integrated perfectly with Exchange, and devices were easy to manage from a central location. Recent outages, slower browser and network speed, and the lack of compatibility with applications have put BlackBerry at the end of the line." Said another commenter about BlackBerrys versus rival devices: "RIM [phones] are like the typewriter compared to the PC."
That's a hard notion to dispute. While the BlackBerry is a fine device for mobile unified messaging, iPhones and Android phones are mobile computing platforms. So it's not surprising that when there's a competition for pocket space, the more capable device wins.
[ See what InformationWeek's Fritz Nelson has to say about what's ailing RIM: For RIM, New CEO Is Not Enough. ]
But that doesn't mean IT managers are happy with this state of affairs. One IT pro offered this lament: "We really never have issues with our BlackBerrys. Now, running ActiveSync on an Android phone is nothing but problems. The built-in application for mail is worthless, and programs like Touchdown for Exchange on the Android are a pain to manage. With the iPhone we have no central management, but at least it usually runs the first time when connecting to Exchange via ActiveSync."
You can hear the echoes of Wang, DEC, and Novell admins who sorely missed the IT-friendly capabilities of their favored platform after it had been rendered obsolete.
Whether IT pros are happy to show RIM products the door or harken back to their heyday, the outlook for RIM in the enterprise is bleak. Currently, 70% of the respondents to our survey report buying BlackBerrys for their users, followed by iPhones at 25%, Android phones at 15%, and Windows Mobile/Phone at 2%. But only 35% of them expect to buy BlackBerrys 24 months from now, while 45% plan to buy iPhones, 25% Android phones, and 6% Windows phones.
Two years is a long time, particularly with new phones rolling out at a consumer market pace, but RIM will have to move quickly and decisively to shore up its brand--something few survey respondents think will happen as a result of the recent management shakeup. Only 5% of respondents think the former co-CEOs were not a factor in RIM's woes, but only 11% think the shakeup is sufficient to help the company. The largest percentage, 47%, think that the shakeup wasn't bold enough and that RIM needs new blood. Another 39% were even less hopeful, saying RIM is in trouble no matter who the CEO is.
The bottom line from our survey is that RIM is losing ground in the enterprise. Only 7% of respondents said their organization's use of RIM products would increase in the future, and just 15% said they'd maintain the status quo. The largest percentage, 45%, said they'll now support an array of phones, including fewer BlackBerrys. Fifteen percent said they're actively looking to replace RIM products, and 12% said they'd already gotten rid of RIM products.
RIM's newest phones address fundamental problems like screen size and touch screen capabilities. But users now expect to choose their own mobile devices for work, and while the Blackberry still has its fans, Android and iPhone continue to dominate mindshare. The Blackberry will have its place, for a while, in highly secure environments. But for just about everyone else, the preference is clear, and it's not for the Blackberry.