One thing I love about technology is I am never out of things to discuss and comment on. So it was with great joy I saw the posting by a disgruntled RIM employee titled “An Open Letter to Blackberry Bosses”. These types of “call to action” or “wake up” memos are nothing new in the industry. Every great company who goes through rocky times will see a few of these and thanks to technology they are no longer internal, we all get to read them. I will leave it to you my readers to read the context of the whole memo. I shall just comment on each point he makes and what my initial thoughts are regarding the matter.
- Focus on the End User Experience: A concerning opening statement. If a mobile phone provider has not figured this out yet they are in big trouble. As I have said before not just mobility but software and hardware are becoming all about the end-user experience. I will disagree with the writer on Android’s weakness, just because point four is such a huge advantage for them. Technology fr consumers has been about user-experience and lifestyles since the first iPod shipped. If RIM is just figuring this out I can only say, “buyer beware”‘.
- Recruit Senior Software Leaders & Enable Decision Making: I can’t tell you of a great software engineer from RIM. However it is very important in the game of technology to have all-stars on your team. I think what is really being asked for here is get smart people who can set the technical vision and direction for the company. This also means RIM does not have them now and by the time these people are brought on board and are in place 2 years will have passed and where will RIM be?
- Cut Projects to the Bone: It seems a common theme at many companies. As the industry moves forward rapidly to maintain focus on the prize and not get sidetracked every time your competition makes a hit or the industry seems to make a change. It’s easy to look at the industry landscape and say “hey look the industry is heading over that way” , next thing you know you have started a new project or added stuff to existing project thus delaying the end deliverable. It is easy in this business to lose sight of where they are going. Keep project as simple as possible, only add-on of your existence depends on it.
- Developer, not Carriers can now make or break us: With the growing popularity of applications the industry has gone through a titanic shift. In the world of voice and text the carrier was king, but now with applications growing in popularity the carrier, though still powerful, has been shoved a side a little. Their networks carry the traffic but they cannot bill like they used to. They want to. It is a bit concerning to me that this needs to be spelled out in a memo, I would hope that this would be self-evident. Just look at Angry Birds.
- Need for serious marketing punch to create end-user desire: Easier said than done. To do this requires a really creative marketing agency and a lot of cold hard cash. They go hand in hand. You can through hundreds of millions of dollars at a campaign (Windows Phone) – but without good marketing it can quickly fizzle away. Or you can have a creative campaign, but without the corresponding dollars no one will hear the campaign and thus it will all be lost. For many companies it is one of those “have to do’s” but RIM is no different from many in not knowing what to do. If you look at Apple it’s gotten to the point that they are getting so much press and free marketing that it becomes hard for the competition to identify how much money needs to be spent to get to even.
- No Accountability – Canadians are too nice: Having spent many a vacation in Canada all I can say is yes and get to know smarter members of the Russian mafia.
- The press and analysts are pissing you off. Don’t snap. Now is the time for humility with a dash of paranoia: There is no doubt RIM is starting to get the “your yesterday’s news” treatment and it has to be frustrating and demoralizing. It was just 2008 when then candidate Barack Obama was running around the United States glued to his Blackberry, some of the greatest free press ever and now you’re a “has been”. Companies need to listen to the press and identify both positive and negative trends. Unfortunately many want to find the positive and shield against the negative.
- Democratize. Engage and interact with your employees: I think this is the real plea in this email. You execs are up in the ivory tower making all these strategic decisions and screwing every one of those decisions up – so please listen to your loyal employees.
In reading and thinking through everything that was listed I find the only conclusion being that RIM is on its way to becoming the next Nokia. Like Nokia they are standing in a burning platform, though it is not too late to extinguish the flames. Some of the areas like User-Experience and Developers, if I take what is written at face value, if these areas are only being recognized now it’s too late. RIM is doomed to failure because it will take years and significant expenditures to reach volume that will enable RIM to organically grow like Google or Apple. There has been rumors that RIM could be sold, but based on this memo I am not sure what of value would be bought. Buying a subscriber base doe snot seem a fitting strategy for anyone. Many of the problems identified need to be fixed through significant expenditures, which I agree with, however the one area that i snot discussed is shareholder value. To fix these problems is going to require someone to step up and say the next couple of years are going to be bumpy, it will require a strong leader with vision, which at the time of this writing RIM does not seem to have.
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann July 5, 2011