On the RIM of a data revolution

Much of our data is increasingly being stored in digital form. We already have digital music, movies and offices, and if Jim Balsillie is correct soon even our wallets will join the digital age.

The chairman and co-CEO at Waterloo, Ont.-based Research In Motion (RIM) Ltd. believes that while the word “wallet” will survive the beginning of the 21st century the actual physical entity that we refer to will soon be transformed.

The word “wallet” has stayed constant but what we put into it has changed, Balsillie said during a keynote event organized by Toronto-based executive placement firm Heidrick & Struggles Canada.

Once, the thought of carrying plastic cards around instead of, and in addition to, money “was a crazy idea,” Balsillie said. Soon we’ll have to adjust to another crazy idea – laying aside the plastic and leather pouches for a wireless electronic device that will carry all of our identification and money.

But creating the technology for wireless wallets will be the easy part, he continued. The hard part will be transforming people’s habits.

“This is 90 per cent about process re-engineering, 10 per cent about technology. The technology is done, or near done, and the capitalization on this is process re-engineering.

“Process re-engineering? Seeing a cop and saying, ‘I’m sorry for speeding officer, here’s my driver’s licence’ – and they…allow that exchange through infrared. That’s a big change, and that’s 10 times tougher than technology.

“I think we’re going to see a world that’s vastly different five years from now, and in many ways, much, much better than it is today.”

But Balsillie admitted to a frustrated user during a Q&A session that wireless technology is currently experiencing bottlenecks due to bandwidth.

The 2.5G wireless network, once it is completed, may partially alleviate the problem but will likely also come with an increase in use, he said.

“By definition, there will always be bottlenecks.”

Convergence of voice and data will likely mean some changes to RIM’s BlackBerry devices, but RIM will be careful about how the BlackBerry evolves.

“I think it’s very, very important not to lose what we’ve done well in the process of growing too fast.”

But RIM will be ready to adopt whatever technology becomes the standard – such as Bluetooth.

For now, though, Balsillie believes Bluetooth is “way over-represented in its state of maturity.” While the technology has received a lot of hype, it will be about three or four years before it fully matures.

“We’ll adapt to it, if the time comes. I have no agenda. We’ll put in infrared, whatever,” he said.