What happens to RIM and QNX in Ottawa after BlackBerry 10?
Drive by Research in Motion and QNX Software Systems Inc.’s Ottawa office buildings any day of the week and you’ll likely see a full parking lot, says RIM executive Sebastien Marineau-Mes.
- Local employees have been working six and a half days a week in preparation for the release of the BlackBerry 10 mobile platform on Jan. 30.
But the launch doesn’t signify the end of the work for Ottawa-based engineers developing many key aspects of the platform, including BlackBerry’s instant messaging system, app store and the integration of social networks.
“It’s not like a manufacturing plant where you build it and it’s done,” says Mr. Marineau-Mes, senior vice-president of BlackBerry’s operating system and of QNX engineering.
“The reality is that it’s the start of something new instead of the end.”
Invest Ottawa president Bruce Lazenby, who has a background in software development, says there will be bugs to iron out and upgrades to add to the software post-release – issues that arise with any new platform.
“The team that has been so busy on BB10 will be so busy on BB10.1 the day after it’s released,” Mr. Lazenby says.
RIM and QNX are still hiring to accommodate for the additional work. Just before Christmas, RIM had 19 job postings on its website for various engineering positions in Ottawa. QNX, which was purchased by RIM in 2010, had an additional 26 openings.
Although RIM has many offices internationally, Ottawa is its second-largest centre for software development after its headquarters in Waterloo.
“Ottawa is critical to RIM,” says Mr. Marineau-Mes. He would know, as the former OBJ Forty Under 40 recipient has worked at QNX for more than a decade and knows what the firm and its local employees contribute to its parent company.
The fact that QNX retained its name following the acquisition is a sure sign RIM recognizes the value of the local company’s brand, Mr. Lazenby says.
“They recognize that beyond its application to RIM, QNX has a much broader offering to much broader communities,” he says.
M2M AND HEALTH CARE
Beyond the release of BB10, another acronym will hold RIM’s attention: M2M, or machine to machine, which refers to technologies that allow wireless and wired systems to communicate with other devices of the same ability. That could mean connecting a cellphone to a vehicle, for example – something QNX has plenty of experience doing.
The local company, which provides the operating system used by GM’s OnStar vehicle assistance technology, is featured in approximately 60 per cent of mid- to high-end cars sold today with navigation systems.
In addition to its expertise in the automotive industry, QNX offers solutions in the medical vertical, including technology to make diagnostic devices more reliable and pharmaceutical product scanners to check for defects. It even offers cancer treatment devices that use proton beams to target tumours precisely, without damaging nearby organs.
There is potential for RIM to access the medical market through QNX, Mr. Martineau-Mes says, by licensing technology to secure patient records or to implement wireless technology throughout hospitals, for example.
“Honestly, the opportunities are mind-boggling,” he says. “Our challenge in the short term is to make sure we focus, get BB10 out in a great launch, and explore these great opportunities.”
Ian Lee, an assistant professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business, is a self-professed BlackBerry enthusiast. He’s been holding off upgrading his phone for the release of BB10 – but there’s a lot riding on its launch.
“I don’t think they’ve got any lives left,” he says of RIM, speculating that the company would likely be sold if the platform were to flop.
But if RIM refocuses on the corporate sector – the features for which it became famous – it can continue to serve a niche market successfully, Mr. Lee says. By ceasing its pursuit of the Apple-dominated consumer space and instead cultivating its corporate expertise, the company has a better chance of survival.
“I think it will be a successful launch in the sense that it will see a lot of sales and allow them to fight on in this brutally competitive market,” he says. “But not if we define it by the standards of Apple, with people lining up outside all night for it.”
Although Mr. Lazenby says he looks forward to being one of the first in line for BB10 upon its release, there’s something else he’s waiting for.
“I’d love to see (RIM) be more present in the everyday community,” he says.
It will likely become more visible again soon, he adds, after coming out of the stealth mode under which it’s been operating during development.
With many new projects ahead and an ongoing hiring spree for software developers that Mr. Marineau-Mes says will continue, it’s a fair assumption that RIM and QNX are about to make some noise.