Mississauga, Ontario’s Nortel was one of the most highly vaunted and valued hi-tech companies in the world, reaching a market capitalization of twice Google’s current worth about a decade ago until it swiftly immolated. History may be repeating itself as the latest high flying Canadian company to take a dizzying nosedive is Research In Motion (RIM), the renowned manufacturer of the ubiquitous BlackBerry devices headquartered about an hour’s drive west in Waterloo. In a vertiginous plunge from the stars to the stalls, RIM is a primary participant in a Keystone Kops sequence of self-inflicted calamities that have made worldwide tech headlines lately, from HP’s paradoxical abandonment of its undisputed leadership in the personal computer arena, to AMD’s premiere of the long awaited Bulldozer microprocessor - which so thoroughly underperforms that it has been greeted by catcalls across the silicon universe.
Trebant vs. Bentley
The BlackBerry PlayBook is a half-baked pseudo-tablet rushed to market so that it could compare to the iPad2 as a Trebant matches up to a Bentley. The icing on the tech cake, however, was the service outage that hit users in mid-October, bringing BlackBerry online services to a screeching halt all over the world for four full days.
If It’s a Dual Redundant Then…
Even after RIM CEO Mike Lazaridis’ bland press conferences and free apps offer, BlackBerry users around the planet found little consolation as the devices they count on for both personal and business communications had become BrickBerrys. The excuse that the "dual redundant, high-capacity core switch” had been to blame for the shut-down was dual redundant hilarious as it brings into question how the dual redundancy was engineered if it failed in every way.
Waterloo-based RIM’s Waterloo has been a one-two punch that the company may not easily shrug off. The fault lies within the board room alone, as the infrastructure should have been engineered and tested to prevent such cascading service failures and it was obvious from the embryonic stage that the PlayBook was going to be an abhorrent design executed with all the finesse of a sledgehammer wielding gorilla. There are so many ways that RIM went wrong that it can be a daunting effort to even summarize them all. Companies of every size can learn from RIM’s mistakes by keeping an eye on their own business basics while striving to see themselves as their customers view them and their offerings. RIM completely lost sight of the business prerequisite to maintain service commitments and bring relevant, effective products to market. It bet its reputation on its international infrastructure while being blind to its serious flaws and launching a major product that instantly became an industry joke. Taking on Apple in the tablet wars was as ill-advised as the Mom & Pop corner convenience store committing to fight Wal-Mart to the death.
RIM’s escapades serve as a reminder to businesses everywhere that companies are built on detail orientation and broad market perspective. Sun Tzu’s warning to not fight the battle you can’t win fell on deaf ears in Waterloo and the formerly soaring company may pay the price in takeover, breakup or worse. Maintaining your own company within a specific niche where you can reasonably be competitive is always a preferable strategy to confronting a fearsome juggernaut when you don’t even have your own house in order. In business it’s better to live one hundred years as a sheep than one day as a lion.