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RIM's current struggles can be traced back to a number missteps in recent years ( see "An Inside Look At Where RIM Went So Wrong" in the iPad Exclusives section of the CRN Tech News iPad app), from a governance model that left too much power in too few hands to the underestimation of new rivals. While those scenarios might not seem applicable to your company, business governance and management experts say there are some lessons any solution provider can learn from RIM's problems.
Here's a look at three universal truths gleaned from RIM's downfall that show how not to fall victim to your own recipe for success.
1. (BIG) CHANGE IS GOOD
Michael Cusumano, professor of Management and Engineering Systems at MIT's Sloan School of Management and author of the book "Staying Power: Six Enduring Principles for Managing Strategy and Innovation in an Uncertain World," told CRN that the structure of a company's technology almost always reflects the personalities of its leaders. In Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM's case, its technology has lacked the flexibility it needs to survive in a world where smartphones are expected to deliver it all. Accessibility to movies, music, books, apps and cameras is now just as hot a selling point as the phone itself.
So even though the BlackBerry was designed to provide enterprise users with secure, on-the-go email -- which it did, successfully, for years -- it's simply not enough to compete anymore in the new world of smartphones. And that can be tied back to former RIM co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balisille, Cusumano said.
"These two guys [that were] running the company have not shown themselves to be terribly future-looking or flexible," he said. "They've tried to remake RIM into a more viable competitor to Apple and the Google Android community, but in some ways, it's been too little, too late."
Once a company's leadership becomes "well versed" with a particular technology (for Lazaridis and Balsillie, that technology was security and email) chances of a major strategic overhaul become more and more grim, Cusumano said. He has dubbed this trend the "Platform Leader's Dilemma" and pointed to Nokia as another example.
Like RIM, Finnish telecommunications company Nokia and its management team grew very comfortable (and, at one point, saw much success) with its feature phones. But as the market came to view phones as do-all, be-all pocket companions, Nokia didn't respond quickly enough -- and took a massive hit in the market because of it.
"Look at Nokia, which also was the king of the feature phone. They have also had trouble adapting to the world of the smartphone, which is really a multimedia Internet device," Cusumano explained. "Nokia optimized its phones basically just for making phone calls. RIM optimized the BlackBerry for secure email. It's still viable for that, but enterprise customers or corporate customers want to do much more with their phones today."
Microsoft, Redmond, Wash., which centralized much of its power in Bill Gates and now in Steve Ballmer, also has fallen victim to a lesser degree to the Platform Leader's Dilemma. Its mobile OS Windows Phone is still struggling to carve a space for itself in the smartphone market, and other product launches, such as Windows Vista, have fared even worse, Cusumano said.
But, despite the massive, evolve-or-die challenge faced by RIM and other struggling tech giants, there is one company that they can turn to as a beacon of hope: Apple. The Cupertino, Calif.-based tech-company-turned-cultural-icon once had a bout of the Platform Leader's Dilemma itself that it had to shake before arriving at its market-changing ecosystem of content.
"Apple had its rigidities, too, but they have managed to evolve," Cusumano told CRN. "There was a change in strategy for the iPod in 2003, and I think it was done kicking and screaming, but [Steve] Jobs and other people around him realized that they had to open up the software architecture just enough to encourage outside content and outside applications."
And look how well that turned out.