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Can the new RIM CEO resuscitate BlackBerry?

Even with a newly appointed RIM CEO, the company has to innovate to survive the Apple/Google onslaught in BYOD enterprises.

Research in Motion pioneered the smartphone with its BlackBerry devices and created a standard for mobile enterprises. But in the BYOD world where employees use Apple and Google devices for business, Blackberry has lost its mojo.

Last year was a particularly tough year for Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) and co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis stepped down from their positions this week.Their replacement is new Chief Operating Officer Thorsten Heins.

RIM is akin to watching an old man die slowly.

Andre Preoteasa, IT director, Castle Brands, Inc.

The RIM CEO change is a tacit admission that lack of innovation made it a struggle for RIM compete with Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android in recent years.

“There are no advantages to using BlackBerries anymore,” said Eran Livne, co-founder of LetMobile, an Israeli device management provider. “I don’t see how they can rebound. Technology runs fast and [RIM] missed the boat.”

Typically, a change in leadership signals a change in strategy, but that may not be the case, according to public statements Heins made recently.

Can BlackBerry survive?

IT departments will continue to use BlackBerry devices for now, because the devices still offer good security and email sync, have a strong business presence with BlackBerry Enterprise Server security and a large worldwide user base. BlackBerry devices also offer consumers desirable physical keyboards and messenger service, analysts said.

But IT also supports other devices such as iPhone, Android and Windows Phone 7, and those devices get the job done, IT pros said.

Blackberry customers are abandoning ship, according to research analyst firm Enterprise Management Associates. Its recent survey shows that 52% of enterprise mobile device users relied on BlackBerry in 2011. But 30% of those survey respondents also said they intended to migrate to another mobile platform in 2012.

To retain its customer base, RIM has to play to its enterprise strengths while appealing to consumers and embracing innovation in the mobile space. Yet, it’s going to be difficult for RIM to make the changes and to differentiate itself from Apple and Google -- which is what the company has to do to succeed, analysts said.

 “There’s no panacea for RIM,” said Michael Gartenberg, a mobile analyst for Gartner, Inc. “At end of day, when your doctor says you need to diet and exercise to lose weight, it’s easier said than done.”

But Heins is assured that BlackBerry 10, RIM’s next-generation operating system, due sometime this year, and the revised PlayBook tablet will gain enough traction among developers and consumers to right the company ship. Further, BlackBerry 10 will offer support for Android apps to leverage the latter platform’s success.

Many RIM investors disagree with Hein’s strategy and the company’s stock dropped 13% in the days after the announcement was made.

Gartenberg compared this moment at RIM to when Steve Jobs returned to Apple. For the first few years there was a lot of ambiguity surrounding Apple’s future. Then, the company introduced the iPod, iTunes and eventually the iPhone and iPad. It was a remarkable turn-around, he said, and that’s the same sort of thing BlackBerry needs to do. But Gartenberg doesn’t think that type of transformation is possible for RIM, and others agree.

“Essentially, RIM is akin to watching an old man die slowly,” said Andre Preoteasa, director of IT, Castle Brands, Inc., an alcohol distribution company in New York, which uses BlackBerry. “It’s painful, sad and [there are] lots of stories of previous good times.”

In the last year, Preoteasa received approval from his company to recommend that employees use non-BlackBerry devices.

Some IT pros surmised the company could be bought for its patents and other positive features. RIM could also become a hardware-only company relying on Android or Windows Phone 7 for its OS, or it could transform into a cross-platform security and manageability solutions provider.

“RIM is doing some interesting things on the enterprise software side,” said Ryan McClune, senior director of innovation and incubation at Avanade Inc., a technology solutions provider based in Seattle. “They are building some cross-platform security and manageability standards. It’ll be interesting. There’s a real market need for that going forward.”

If RIM survives, it won’t be the same company, he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email James Furbush or follow @slyoyster on Twitter.

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