Struggling to catch a break, BlackBerry Tuesday printed an open letter in more than 30 news publications across nine countries, reaching out to the remainder of its faithful customers.
"You can continue to count on BlackBerry," the letter boldly stated, despite an avalanche of evidence mounting over the past several weeks that suggests that might not be the case.
Once the dominant enterprise smartphone solution, the company lost its identity when it shifted its focus to compete with consumer-oriented brands such as Apple and Samsung. Now, turning the sinking company back to its original, secure enterprise course seems a task on par with preventing the Titanic from going under.
According to the printed ad, BlackBerry wants its customers to believe BlackBerry's hardware, software and services technology are solid as a rock. The issue partners and customers are running into is how to trust a company that continues to deliver bad news while the rumor mill fills with talk about piecemeal acquisitions.
Though the future of the company is anything but clear, three options have made their way to the public eye: Go private in what analysts now consider an overpriced $4.7 billion deal with top investor Fairfax Financial; be bought back by co-founder Mike Lazaridis; or break into pieces and be sold to other IT giants.
As the time clock ticks for BlackBerry, a decision is inevitably approaching. The questions remain -- how reasonable are each of the options, and what will happen to channel partners in each scenario?
Divide And Disperse
Once talk of Google, Cisco, SAP or other companies having interest in portions of the BlackBerry dynasty began, shares spiked 4.5 percent. Aside from touting an impressive patent portfolio, it is unclear why or what portion of BlackBerry other manufacturers may be interested in.
"Anybody saying patents are the most valuable is speculating. Those are closely held secrets. There is a revenue stream there, but it's hard to know what that is," said Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney. Licensed patents, Dulaney added, are not as valuable today as they would be unlicensed.
BlackBerry's most valuable and attractive asset, Dulaney said, is most likely its network operations centers, which include all its servers across the world. Cisco may have an eye on the centers to manage security of the Internet of Things. A wireless carrier also may see the network as valuable for routing efficiency, according to Dulaney.
BES 10, BlackBerry's mobile management platform, is the only portion of the company it has been able to share good news about, growing the number of BES 10 users at a steady rate. Dulaney said there may be companies interested in BES 10 for the services and customer list, but it would not be without risk.
"If the company does get broken up, that would be admission of its failure. No one wants to buy an operating system that has already failed," Dulaney said.
Douglas Grosfield, CEO of Cambridge, Ontario-based solution provider and BlackBerry partner Xylotek Solutions, said splitting the company is a "dangerous path to go down" for BlackBerry, a path he hopes the company can avoid.
"The mature innovation will get lost in the flurry to sell off patents," Grosfield said. "The main story for partners has always been integration of the BES software into a secure corporate environment."
Grosfield fears BlackBerry will be unable to retain control of manufacturing and, as a result, impact partners' ability to manage and support the devices.
NEXT: Fairfax Financial Deal
Ten percent stakeholder Fairfax Financial offered to take BlackBerry private in a $4.7 billion deal, promising other investors would be involved in financing the company as well.
The offer was made in late September and must be accepted by Nov. 4 should BlackBerry choose to go ahead with the deal. In the following days and weeks, analysts have deemed the offer too high and have been skeptical that co-investors have yet to be named.
"The Fairfax deal is certainly under suspicion. The price they quoted is overpriced based on decline," said Gartner's Dulaney.
Though confidence in investors' ability to take the company private is shrinking, it is one of the most attractive options for BlackBerry loyalists and partners who want to see the company succeed.
Rick Jordan, director of sales and strategic alliances at Toronto-based solution provider and BlackBerry partner Tenet Computer Group, has considered himself a BlackBerry advocate through thick and thin. Though Jordan continues to believe in the quality of BlackBerry products, he is discouraged by the company's recent lack of forthrightness with its partners.
"They can take out ads and relay to the enterprise market that they are not going away. But we as a partner have yet to have someone reach out to us and tell us what they can do to help us help them," Jordan said.
Whether the company goes private in the investor deal or not, Jordan said BlackBerry will have to rely on its partners to keep BlackBerry products in the enterprise. Until partners are given more clarity on the future of the company, Jordan said, it's difficult to deliver any reassurance to customers.
Lazaridis has commissioned Goldman Sachs Group to help him buy and save the company that he helped propel to the front lines of innovation before watching it tumble into its current predicament.
"BlackBerry is Lazaridis' baby," Dulaney said. "If he buys it back, he believes he'll be saving a Canadian company, he'll be saving his baby. But he is going to buy it at a much lower price point than Fairfax."
Xylotek's Grosfield said Lazaridis may be the best bet for BlackBerry, partners and consumers alike.
"The fact that they are from top to bottom dedicating their efforts to refocusing on the business space as opposed to consumer markets is a good sign," Grosfield said. "If Lazaridis and his partner can pull together the financing to assist them, then they will certainly be able to refocus the vision of the company."
Dulaney added, "I think it's a matter of whether Fairfax or Lazaridis buys them. Lazaridis will probably try to save it; Fairfax will probably split it up. In order to survive, they have to get out of the public eye right away."
PUBLISHED OCT. 16, 2013