RIMs New MD task of Convincing Customers to stay
The new managing director of Research in Motion has spent the first three weeks of his new job on the road with sales reps, trying to convince major corporate clients the company is worth sticking by.
Matthew Ball, 36, took over from Ray Gillenwater in mid July, after serving as RIM Australia and New Zealand marketing director for 12 months. Gillenwater had been chief of the local branch of the embattled company for only three months.
Once the darling of the private and public institutions for its mobile security reputation and business reliability, BlackBerry’s popularity and market share have plunged. The Canadian company’s stock has fallen more than 70 per cent in the past year.
The rapid adoption of consumer-friendly alternatives such as Apple’s iPhone and devices powered by Google’s Android operating system have forced corporations to rethink their mobility policies in an effort to keep their employees happy. Workers keen to adopt smartphone apps and to combine work and play on one device fell in love with the touch-friendly alternatives to the BlackBerry. The subsequent launch of the iPad has enlarged Apple’s footprint in the corridors of business and forced some companies to re-engineer their computer security systems to bow to users’ demand for the tablet.
RIM is in the process of shedding 5000 jobs worldwide, or almost a third of its workforce, as it seeks to save $US1 billion this year. It has lost a number of large corporate clients, including Qantas.
Ball is painfully aware of all that, but said the company was committed to Australia and New Zealand. Its revenue contribution to the global operations was “quite substantial”.
“We’re here to stay. We are a company in transition. We have a fantastic portfolio and roadmap for the future,” Ball said.
Ball said he had been sharing the company’s long term plans, beyond BB10, with clients who sign a non-disclosure agreement. Those clients were happy to stay with the company as a result of what they heard, he said.
“We have $2 billion in the bank. We have a 78 million user base. We’re transitioning to a new platform,” Ball said. “No MD is delighted about any customer that leaves, but the resounding feedback we’ve been getting after sharing our plans is [clients] want us to be successful.”
IBRS mobile technology analyst James Turner was not convinced, given the growing demand for bring-your-own-device (BYOD) to work.
“I think it’s smoke and mirrors. I think increasingly IT departments and executives in large organisations are looking at the bigger trends. Many of them see the shift to BYOD as an opportunity and currently BlackBerry does not align with that strategy,” Turner said.
In a nod to the popularity of its competitors, RIM is marketing its mobile device management [MDM] software product Fusion to allow companies to manage other brands of devices.
But this was not an admission of defeat, Ball said. ”MDM as a category is relatively new. It’s about embracing a new category.”
Turner said the business challenges for RIM could not be underestimated.
“It’s a tough ask to get [client] organisations that have been falling behind in the innovation curve to stick around for another two years while others take an quantum leap.”
Turner estimated it would take two years after the launch of BlackBerry 10 devices for the operating system to gain traction and market acceptance ahead of corporate adoption.
Ball said the launch was delayed to ensure the transition was smooth and the product matched the promises. It would be easier for app developers to work with the operating system, he said.
Gartner research vice president Geoff Johnson said BlackBerry had been “on a path” to opening its operating system. “But at the end of the day, it’s a question of how big that developer community is,” Johnson said adding at the moment developers favoured Android and Apple’s iOS.
“The market has moved on, it’s difficult to maintain the glory. One day we will be having this same discussion about Apple. The trick is to reinvent yourself.”
However, Johnson said RIM could still have a viable business, just much smaller in size.
During Ball’s tenure as marketing director, the company admitted to being behind a stunt which saw black-clad protesters chant “wake up” outside the Apple’s Sydney CBD store in April. It was later forced to deny it had paid bloggers to report on the stunt.
Ball smiled shyly when asked if he regretted the marketing ambush.
“It was a teaser for the Be Bold [advertising] campaign. It gave us an opportunity to have a conversation with the [public],” he said.
Prior to joining RIM, Ball spent four years at Microsoft Australia marketing the Xbox, and three years as head of mobile data business for Vodafone Australia previously.