Learning from RIM – good operations cannot fix a lack of vision.

The debacle at RIM continues.

The list of problems over the last couple of years pretty much ticks every box possible on what could go wrong in a technology company:

– Service failures, botched new product releases, uninspiring product roadmaps, delays to critical updates …

And the corresponding impact of these:

– Falling sales, falling profits, missed targets and a collapse in share price.

After failing to address the problems, RIM has taken the bold move of appointing a new CEO, Thorsten Heins, to boldly lead the recovery of the company.

And the result?

The stock fell further.

The core reason being pretty simple – because RIM and the new CEO has not shown that it even acknowledges the problems that analysts see, let alone is taking actions to resolve these. It didn’t help that the CEO was previously in charge of innovation and handset development at RIM, two areas that RIM has clearly failed in over recent years.

This brilliant piece of analysis by Michael Mace from 2010 details the problems facing RIM. It correctly predicts happened in 2011.

It also shows why any CEO who fails to address the underlying problem the ‘death spiral’ is going to fail to stop the decline.

And this is why the analysts and commentators are hammering RIM …

….because you cannot solve a problem of a lack of vision by executing better on a failed strategy. 

If there is no vision, no innovation, no idea that excites customers, no roadmap to beat competitors, no thought on how to challenge Apple, to defend against Microsoft, then the only result is stalled growth, collapsing profits and ultimately company failure. As Michael Mace highlights, this is not a slow decline. It is not a smooth linear reduction, it is “like a sprinter running off the edge of a cliff“.

Heins is right that RIM needs to fix the problems in product development and engineering and his Siemens experience will be relevant for this, but  this alone is not enough. RIM needs an injection of energy, vision and innovation to convince customers why it deserves a place in the market as a major player, not a declining enterprise provider. RIM needs to show how it plans to compete against the platform ecosystems that Apple, Android, Nokia+Microsoft have. Today, this is absent.

Without a vision that shows that you understand your challenges and have a clear idea of how to address these, you are not going to give customers, carriers, analysts and partners the confidence to support your product. Without that confidence customers will not buy your products, carriers will not promote your product and developers will not build applications for your product. RIM needs a strong ecosystem, not just a new line of phones.

Nobody wants to invest time, money and potentially their career on a failing company.

3 tasks for RIM’s new CEO

1) Hire 

Hire people who will tell you the hard truth, who will challenge failed logic and call out poor design. Hire people who will inspire, who are creative, who understand about platforms and ecosystems. Hire people who are passionate about life and technology. Great engineering matters and RIM could teach Apple a thing or two about network efficiency and battery life, but in design, usability and ultimately fun, Apple gives RIM and most phone makes a complete kicking. Get people who

2) Talk

Start to engage with the your customers – and listen to them. Not just the loyal ones. Not just the Blackberry die hards. Engage with the lost customers, the disenchanted, the disappointed. Measure customer satisfaction and make this a key metric across the company. Talk to carriers, partners, new businesses. Find others who will invest to build joint success. RIM cannot do this alone, whatever it thinks.

3) Focus

Implement the changes you need to make quickly. Get serious. Inject some energy into the company. Install a sense or urgency. Set aggressive timescales for change. Set achievable goals with short timescales. Embrace agile and lean. Learn quickly, change quickly.

One final point. You have less time than you think.

Apple, Android, Nokia+Microsoft are all chasing the same pound, dollar and euro that you are, and they are not going to make it easy for you to survive. Game on.




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