Thursday, 6 December 2012

Failing to Understand RIM's Business Strategy

I REALLY want Research in Motion to survive and thrive on the marketplace. I REALLY don't think that's going to happen.

Research in Motion's business strategy has all the appearances of a company flailing about, without a vision or a long term strategy. It all started for me when RIM offered free Playbooks to companies that upgraded their Blackberry Enterprise Server solution to the latest version. I had already upgraded our solution as I always try to stay current for our internal customers and I was excluded from this loyalty incentive because I was too loyal. So yes, I was a little irked. (As a matter of fact I updated TWO installations of BES and never got a Playbook.)

For those of you that use a Smartphone and turn your nose up at a Blackberry, BES is what really made Blackberry's useful for companies'. It's integration into Microsoft Exchange (and Lotus Notes for those poor sods of companies that use that. And yes, they still exist) was and is unparalleled. Through a Blackberry, I have a lot more access into my e-mail than anyone with an iPhone or an Android device (or even Windows Mobile, which is really ironic, but beyond the scope of where I want to go right now.)

However, as I have discovered to my shock, most people don't actually leverage the full potential of most e-mail systems and only use it to send and receive e-mails. I know that's most of e-mail right there, but trust me, an enterprise e-mail system like Microsoft Exchange offers a lot more than just sending/receiving messages. And a Blackberry tied to a BES leveraged a lot of those advanced features.

Having said all that, I still believe RIM's biggest asset was the BES. If they ever leveraged it to manage other smartphones beyond the Blackberry the company could survive if it abandoned the handset market entirely and focused on being a smartphone management company. They did have competitors in this area, but they were all small compared to RIM. RIM was the market leader, with the largest market share. While they were losing out on the handhelds, they still had a solid core on the band-end management infrastructure to keep those handhelds functional in a business environment.

The one thing large organizations need (especially in this day and age of BYOD) is a way to mange and control their information that is used on mobile devices. RIM's experience in this area coupled with a mature stable product gave them an advantage in this key area. While Apple was leap-frogging RIM on the handheld side, RIM still was and still could be, the leader in managing mobile devices. So what did RIM do? They started giving the BES and their new solution Mobile Fusion away for free.

This giveaway meant that RIM still believed they could stay profitable as a mobile hardware company. Now as a rule, companies will spend money to protect their intellectual property. One of those options was, as I've been saying, was the Blackberry Enterprise Server. And RIM started giving it away. But they still had to invest R&D $$ into it and spend the $$ to distribute, maintain and advertise it. So they still had the costs, but threw away the revenue stream. (Yes, for the BES educated among you, they still had tSupport contracts and licensing limits for larger firms. but my point still stands.)

Well now we are much closer to the BB 10 launch date and RIM wants its enterprise customers back. And I think RIM is starting to realize it has been focused to much on the average consumer and has been neglecting their corporate customers. Those corporate customers are bleeding users to Apple and Android. Employees are saying "BES what's that? I don't use that, I want an iPhone!" and off they go and buy one if the company won't. So corporations are scrambling to come up with a way to control their data that is now on uncontrolled personal devices and also (ironically) dealing with user complaints when people discover the features that worked on a BB don't exist on an iPhone.

RIM to the rescue! RIM has a management solution for iPhones and Androids, so they've got your back!

Well yes and no.

RIM scrambled to develop a product to manage iPhones, Androids the new BB10 and the previously released Playbook devices. You see, RIM was in such a hurry to compete in the consumer tablet market that they released a corporate tablet (the Playbook) and didn't integrate it with the their Blackberry Enterprise Server platform. Hell, as everyone now knows, they didn't even give it a native e-mail client. Which made it useful for well, nobody. You couldn't use it for personal e-mail, and you couldn't use it in a corporate environment either. Not only could a company not use their BES for competitor devices (which makes sense) a company couldn't use RIM's management solution to manage the new RIM devices. There's shooting yourself in the foot, and then there's shooting yourself in the head. RIM chose the latter option.

For reasons I do not understand, to deal with this incredibly STUPID oversight, RIM had to develop a new Enterprise Server as they couldn't make the Playbook and the upcoming BB10 work with the old one. This new Enterprise Serer platform is now called Mobile Fusion. So a company that has users with older Blackberry's still needs a legacy BES and also now needs a Mobile Fusion server for BB10, iPhones and everything else. If you're confused, so am I. And I'm paid to manage this shit. What was simple and elegant is now confusing and unclear. Companies' hate confusing and unclear from their vendors.

Additionally the tech market does not stand still. There was a market vacuum in that there were a dearth of products that could manage Apple and Android devices. So other companies started to step up and offer solutions. Zenprise, Mobile Iron, etc. started gaining market share. (Zenprise in particular looked so attractive, tech giant Citrix snapped them up yesterday.) RIM no longer stood alone in the Enterprise Device Management. Their one advantage was evaporating.

So to summarize the current landscape. Long-term business RIM BES customers have made an investment over the years to purchase, license and support an Enterprise Smartphone management solution that seamlessly integrated handhelds into the corporate messaging system. RIM started giving that solution away to entice new business customers, and yet, made it incompatible with new devices on and coming to market. RIM creates a new solution, calls it Mobile Fusion and gives that way too.

EXCEPT. Yes, Mobile Fusion server is free. But, a company needs to buy a Client Access License (a CAL) for each device managed by the Mobile Fusion server. (Nothing new here really, as the old BES works the same way. But it is a contradiction to give away software and then charge later to make it usable. FREE does not equate with "we'll charge you later to turn it on".) We, like many companies, have purchased CALs for every Blackberry that we had given employees. Say we had 500 Blackberry's managed. That means we had 500 CALs on the Blackberry Enterprise Server. Assuming that 100 users switched to iPhones means that only 400 devices are now being manged and 100 CALs are now available. 500-100=400. That's how Blackberry Server CAL licensing works, it's per device currently connected.

So those 100 iPhones need managing. OK, well, there are multiple solutions that say they manage these devices, but we're a RIM customer, we have an existing stable relationship, so let's leverage that. We'll install Mobile Fusion and transfer those available 100 CALs from the BES to Fusion. Nope. *Not allowed. You have to purchase them all over again. Let me state that again. We have already made an investment; purchased a BES server and CALs. We have renewed support and maintained licensing every year for that solution so that we stay entitled to the latest and greatest BES offering from RIM. RIM releases a new Enterprise Server instead of enhancing the old one and give it away for free to anyone. Customers that have maintained support contracts to pay for that entitlement (i.e. get new software when it comes out) are now on the same level as customers that haven't paid one red cent towards the Enterprise Server solution. And to top it all off, we have to re-purchase the CALs to manage the devices our employees have switched to. So why did we pay for the rights to maintain BES software again? We've now given RIM money for essentially nothing in return.

Oh but don't worry. RIM realizes this is an investment for organisations to make. To compensate existing customers, you are entitled to ONE free BB 10 if and when it ever comes to market.

Like I said earlier. RIM is flailing, and I don't get their strategy. Well unless their strategy is to alienate every loyal customer they have left. Then their strategy makes PERFECT sense.


*Note: An organisation with an active support contract will be able to transfer BES CALs from the old BES to the new Fusion Server for BB10 (and Playbook) devices. But as the BB10 isn't actually on the market yet, that's vaporware as far as we're concerned. We have existing devices that need managing NOW, and RIM has essentially given us the finger.

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