Can RIM make a comeback in 2012?

During the Christmas break I tried to shutdown but Research in Motion rumours just wouldn’t leave me alone.

Take some of my friends and relatives for example. They have heard something about RIM or its executives and are compelled to tell me about it because I cover them. My favourite was the rumour heard by my brother-in-law that the CEO of RIM would be stepping down to become the commissioner of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). I asked him which one (RIM has co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis)? He didn’t know RIM had two chief executives.

The other question I get all the time is “should I switch from my Blackberry to an iPhone or Droid device because RIM is tanking? The reason for this question is that these users have also heard all the rumours of RIM’s infinite demise and are in panic mode. Of course none of these things are going to happen. RIM is not headed for a sudden collapse and neither Balsillie nor Lazaridis will be running the OHL.

The other rumours I heard was that RIM was going to be taken-over by one of the top European service providers or and that Balsillie and Lazaridis would step down as co-Chairman and hire a new person for that role.

The last one seems to have some legs but that too will not solve RIM’s market issues.Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group who follows the mobile market better than most other analysts has consistently said RIM has great technology but is misapplying it in the marketplace. Case in point: the RIM Playbook was positioned as a consumer device rather than a Blackberry accessory. I use the Playbook as my Blackberry companion and the product is fantastic.

Enderle is bang on and this speaks to leadership. Balsillie and Lazaridis are founders and sometimes founders have to take a step back and let go for a company to go to the next level. They also have to stop shooting themselves in the foot such asthe pricing fiasco with the Playbook in Canada and the U.S. In Canada, the Playbook starts at $199, while in the U.S. the Playbook 16GB to 64GB models have the same price ($299). That’s a boneheaded mistake and speaks to leadership not having its eye on the ball – 24/7. The question is if RIM wants to make a leadership change; who's out there? Who can turn around this company’s fortunes the way Lou Gerstner did at IBM about a decade and half ago?

A new chairman would be a start but RIM has to go deeper and bring in someone who has better marketing savvy than the current crop of executives. The smartphone market is now a consumer market. Businesses are allowing its employees to bring their own device to work.

The good news for RIM is that they still have a strong and loyal user base in business and government. The channel has supported RIM technology with customized applications for business. Those deployments will be hard to displace. They are also doing well in foreign markets against Apple and Android. And, those markets are growing unlike the North American market. That’s a good base to start from and RIM should exploit its own customer base to boost the Playbook tablet.

2012 can be a watershed year for RIM, but it starts at the top and the co-CEOs will have a huge decision to make and time is of the essence.

One quick hit before I go…NCIX, a leading e-tailer and IT retailer has hired Carlos Teixeira as director of sales and marketing. Teixeira is a 20 year veteran of high tech sales and marketing spent mostly with LG Electronics Canada. Teixeria was instrumental in making Western Canada one of the fastest growing territories for LG Canada.

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