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New RIM CEO must first execute strategy, analysts say

Some say Hein's task faces roadblocks due to continued problems in PlayBook 2 and BlackBerry touchscreens

A lot is riding on Thorsten Heins, who's been charged with resuscitating stumbling Research in Motion as its new CEO.

Heins yesterday replaced controversial RIM co-CEO's Mike Lazarides and Jim Balsillie.

Analysts and industry partners think Heins may have only until December to prove his mettle. By then, they say, he must get new BlackBerry 10 smartphones out the door and get Playbook 2 tablet sales off to a good start when they begin shipping starting next month.

"RIM is already locked-in on BlackBerry 10 and PlayBook 2, so they are somewhat committed to that strategy," said Rick Segal, the CEO of Fixmo, a provider of risk management software for BlackBerry, Apple iOS and Android smartphones.

"The execution is what has to be done, and [Heins] has to keep the trains running on time," Segal noted. "If there's no movement in 24 months, he's toast. In fact, if they miss Christmas [2012 product rollouts], that will be ugly."

Heins, a RIM insider who held the COO post before his promotion, said early Monday that under his leadership RIM will focus on making a stronger commitment to consumer products and to boosting its marketing efforts.

Analysts today said efforts to improve its place in the consumer business and upgrade its marketing is nothing new for RIM; it's just that the Canadian firm hasn't done very well at either.

RIM, they noted, has been trying mostly in vain to market products to consumers for more than two years. It has largely failed in efforts to sell touchscreen smartphones in the U.S. and has been hurt by selling devices that include lackluster Web browsers, they added.

As part of the effort, RIM acquired mobile operating system developer QNX nearly two years ago. However, it failed in 2011 to roll out QNX-based smartphones fast enough to compete against Android and iOS devices.

RIM's share of the U.S. smartphone market dropped dramatically in 2011, according to reports from various analysts. Those reports did note, however, that RIM has done better in other regions of the globe.

QNX, now called BlackBerry 10, is now supposed to hit the market later this year.

Heins' announcement that he plans to find a new chief marketing officer for RIM hardly solves its problems, said Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group. The new CEO has a background in engineering "and engineers often don't fully understand the marketing role," he noted.

RIM might need to pull a CMO from Apple or elsewhere so it can take on a brash new approach, Enderle added.

"But 12 months [to turn RIM around] is too aggressive an expectation," he said. "If the new CEO is held to 12 months, he likely won't be seen as successful, Turnaround efforts typically take 36 to 60 months."

Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner, said under the current RIM technology roadmap, development of smartphone and touchscreen technology could prove troubling for Heins and RIM.

"The challenges for RIM remain as they were before the management change," Dulaney said. "They have missed the touchscreen market both in smartphones and tablets. They must make some aggressive moves to change their fortunes."

Dulaney criticized the PlayBook 2.0 user interface improvements RIM officials previewed at CES. The changes "may be too little and too late to bring the developer community to RIM, something they desperately need," he said.

Developers of smartphone and tablet apps want to put their efforts into platforms that will be highly popular, so RIM may need to adopt Android as its smartphone and tablet OS while using the QNX software as an "overlay," Dulaney suggested.

Many analysts offered a somewhat radical suggestion to the new CEO: License its OS to other manufacturers. Heins today said that he will listen to parties looking to license BlackBerry 10, though he added that licensing the software isn't a priority for the company today.

Dulaney also said that RIM needs to improve its marketing plans for the BlackBerry Enterprise Server and its related consumer-grade product. "It offers unique security and efficiency capabilities," he said, but noted that RIM hasn't yet offered price incentives to attract customers.

Analysts agreed that Heins' appointment is a strong, positive step for RIM, but more needs to be done.

"Changing the CEO in and of itself will not turn things around," said Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates. "RIM also needs to get the new BlackBerry 10 OS out as a quickly as possible -- and make sure it shines."

Gold added that it's important to remember that RIM is "not doing badly in many parts of the world" and is still making money.

"They are not falling into obscurity. At the end of the day, it will be about execution," Gold said.

Going up against Android and iOS will require RIM to be "less Canadian -- laid back -- and more aggressive in marketing, which hopefully [Heins] will bring," Gold added.

Gartner analyst Carolina Mianesi said it is hard to predict how well RIM will do in coming months, partly because Heins hasn't laid out many details.

"Right now, I do not think that RIM knows what their focus will be," she said. "It will take a long time before we see market share gain and ... margin improvements."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen , or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com .

Read more about mobile and wireless in Computerworld's Mobile and Wireless Topic Center.


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