RIM CIO Adds A Huge Job In Management Shakeup

CIO Robin Bienfait gets a critical role in keeping business customers from defecting from the BlackBerry.
We've seen more CIOs wearing at least two hats at their companies, extending their responsibilities into e-commerce, operations, supply chain management, product management, and other areas. Even considering those precedents, though, Research In Motion CIO Robin Bienfait has added a doozy of a second job: Keep RIM’s business customers from turning in their BlackBerrys for iPhones and other hot consumer devices.

Bienfait's new role comes as part of a RIM management shakeup announced July 25, part of a restructuring that also laid off 2,000 employees, or 10% of the company's workforce. RIM declined an interview, but here's how it describes what Bienfait will take on:

Robin Bienfait is maintaining her responsibilities as CIO, including BlackBerry Operations, Customer Service and Corporate IT functions, and also taking on responsibility for the Enterprise Business Unit focused on delivering outstanding customer service and extending RIM's leadership in the enterprise sector.
The move puts Bienfait smack in the middle of the "consumerization" movement that's reshaping how CIOs deliver IT to employees. At many companies, the consumer IT debate starts with a smartphone: Can I use my own phone for work? More companies are saying yes to iPhones and other consumer devices--56% of companies support iPhones in our recent OS survey, compared to 92% that support BlackBerry. As companies open that door, one of the hairy problems RIM faces is how to provide all the security and management features businesses have always liked about the BlackBerry while at the same time matching the sizzle of the consumer brands' features and apps. Bienfait will need to answer that call.

That, and a whole lot more. Someone must be the voice for the CIO throughout RIM, pounding home just how much the CIO's mission has changed when it comes to mobility. As our recent research finds, mobile apps are the No. 1 priority when it comes to enterprise software projects, whether it's on-premises software or software as a service. CIOs aren't just thinking about whether a BlackBerry or an iPhone or an Android smartphone makes sense for employees. In fact, sometimes they're just letting employees decide that. Instead, their focus is on how to let employees access information and run entire business processes on mobile devices--any devices--and do that securely. CIOs would love to have someone help them solve that problem, and no vendor has clearly claimed that role.

My colleague Fritz Nelson recently offered a struggling RIM this bit of advice:

RIM must be swift and aggressive in changing how it approaches its growth opportunities That could include de-coupling its BlackBerry phones from its rock-solid mobile infrastructure (BES) and creating a mobile cloud that is regulation- and security-friendly across all industries, and that works with every mobile OS platform. That may not sound very sexy to a company that is taken with its television and billboard ads. But it's just what the doctor ordered where CIOs are concerned.

The CIO's Second Job

It's not unheard of for the CIO to add a second title, but it's rarely as customer-oriented a role as Bienfait's is.

When the CIO is wearing two hats, it usually involves operations or back-office functions that IT enables. Banks often link operations and IT responsibility in some way. At Procter & Gamble, CIO Filippo Passerini also is president of global business services, which includes human resources, facilities maintenance, and other services used across P&G. Passerini took over that group, of which IT is a part, when he led a sweeping reorganization in 2003 that outsourced swaths of operational IT, leaving a much smaller core of IT staffers focused on new projects and innovation.

Hewlett-Packard, during its own management shakeup this year, signaled it would expand the CIO's responsibilities. A big difference from Bienfait's experience, though: HP parted ways with CIO Randy Mott in the process. HP will expand the CIO role by shifting over some responsibilities that had fallen under chief administrative officer Pete Bocian, who also left. The new CIO functions include global procurement and volume operations, which supports the processes for high-volume direct sales and channel sales, from proposals to payments to rebates. It also includes HP's global business services organization, which is charged with improving internal HP operating efficiency.

Bienfait is in a pressure cooker with her new gig, given RIM’s shaky growth prospects. RIM's share of the U.S. smartphone operating system market fell 3.7 points, to 23.4%, for the three-month period ending in June, according to market researcher ComScore, and RIM's revenue growth has slowed, prompting it to warn of lower-than-expected growth in its upcoming fiscal quarter. CIOs are getting pounded to deliver mobile functionality -- to give salespeople and mobile execs the same kind of high-powered interactive experience with vital business data as they're addicted to getting from commercial services. That’s a looming enterprise need that hasn’t been met. But RIM isn't necessarily the CIO's first solution to that problem anymore. Bienfait, a fellow CIO, will have to play a part in turning that status around.

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