BlackBerry Classic CIOs

John Chen is not a CIO, but when he took over BlackBerry he faced a situation that many of his customers find themselves in all the time.

Despite what some may think, there are occasionally things created by IT departments in the enterprise that work really well. It could be software that connects remote workers, or a portal that stores data on customers and projects. Of course, even these things get old eventually, and replaced with something newer, presumably better, but which no one likes or understands nearly as much. In other words, when CIOs get hired they sometimes find themselves somewhere between the era of the BlackBerry Bold and the BlackBerry Z10.

The BlackBerry Classic launch this week in New York was an attempt by Chen to demonstrate — on the largest scale possible — that he has heard the feedback and is acting accordingly. When his predecessor Thorsten Heins launched the Z10 and the Q10, he said he had been listening, too, but he sounded irritated by customers who clung to the concept of a trackpad. I think he may have even said something like, “We’re not going back, here.” Chen, in contrast, has decided going back may be the only way to go forward.

As a result, the BlackBerry Classic may please the loyalists in its user base, and allow the company to move more incrementally towards touchscreen interfaces and other next-generation ideas. CIOs who need to clean up their own predecessors’ messes could do (and probably often do) something similar. As tempting as it is to put your own stamp on things, it may be worth taking a moment first to look at what went right — really right — with a given organization’s IT in the past, and what might deserve a return. Call it the BlackBerry Classic approach to innovation (and credit me!) if you like, but remember that it is a two-part process.

What happened this week is the first part for BlackBerry. With the Classic, the firm is telling the market it is placing a higher priority on established success than what trends in mobile computing might otherwise dictate. The next part — arguably the more important part — is how you iterate on top of that success. The Classic may have the right hardware design, and rather than provide a replica of the original some updates have been added, such as the larger screen and longer battery life. Over the next year or so, however, BlackBerry will need to expand the capabilities of the device such that those using it are doing things users of the original BlackBerry (the classic before it became Classic) would never have dreamed of doing.

The same is true for CIOs who want to revive a once-cherished application, Web site, database or other piece of internal IT. You may not have to rebrand such things as “Classic” to show employees you’re trying to meet them half-way, but you do have to show them you’re not only coming back to the organization’s roots but taking it into much further, towards real growth of some kind. It’s that commitment not only to user feedback but a focus on the future that separates a classic from a mere flash in the pan.



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