The past week has seen investors in Research in Motion (RIM) heading for the door with a wild look in their eyes, breathing hard with their ears pinned back. 

The share price of RIM has plummeted over 50% since the beginning of 2011; a trend that has accelerated recently because of the brickbats thrown at the new BlackBerry tablet by reviewers, the fact that no new smartphone product/update has been announced, and, a drop in earnings. 

RIM is No. 3 in the smartphone market behind Apple and the Google-platform Android platform smartphones, but that spot is looking more and more tenuous everyday as RIM continues to lose market share. Comscore says RIM’s market share in the smartphone sector has taken a massive dive from 40% in 2010 to the current 26%. And, BlackBerry sales last quarter have experienced their first quarterly drop in sales since 2005. Lastly, the market cap of RIM now sits at $14 billion USD, down from $80 billion a scant 36 months ago. 

Would-be usurpers HP Palm and Nokia are waiting in the wings as RIM continues its descent into market Hell. There are some others as well, but they’re dark horses at this point, and HP’s reborn Palm unit and Nokia’s phone business are the main belligerents vying for RIM’s third-place spot. 

The fact that RIM has fallen and can’t get up is bad enough by itself, but there are also serious doubts as to whether the senior management at the company, recently beset by resignations, is robust enough to pull off a turnaround. There is also the lingering question of whether the two CEOs (not a misprint; two people “share” CEO duties) have realized just how dire things are, since they seem to be sleepwalking these days and not as concerned about the urgency of the situation as they ought to be. Will the company come out of its stupor early enough to save itself from being relegated to a niche business? 

Because there are some things they could do. They could: 

  • Exploit their leadership position abroad – BlackBerry is very, very popular overseas. 
  • Open up their secure server enterprise platform by renting space on it to other providers. That platform is what closes the deal for corporate IT chiefs when they’re deciding what smartphones to allow at work. Talk about some fee-based income. 
  • Take a broom to the senior management ranks and get a single CEO. 
  • Make it as easy as possible for application developers to riff off of the platform, and go on a corporate charm offensive to convince them to do so. RIM’s efforts so far in this area are laughably inadequate – there are around 20,000 applications for the BlackBerry platform compared to 350,000 for Apple’s iPhone and around 200,000 for the Android-based phones. 
  • Focus more on features consumers will love. Business users are consumers, too, and it sure wouldn’t hurt. 
  • The new QNX platform looks good, so why not change every product over right now, thereby making sure every BlackBerry product has no need to apologize for its technology shortcomings? 
  • Spend more money marketing to consumers. 

But, whatever they do, they’re going to need to do it soon. One of the things left unsaid so far is that RIM’s weakened state makes it a prime acquisition target. Google could buy them tomorrow, and convert everything over to Android. Microsoft, who has been trying to crack the code on the smartphone sector for awhile, could do the same thing, except they would convert BlackBerry to the new Microsoft operating system, which would also dovetail nicely with BlackBerry’s core business users. 

The clock is ticking…

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Business Turnaround Specialists, a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area, where he advises businesses in rebirth and rejuvenation. Business Turnaround Specialists can be found at http://www.business-turnaround-specialists.com

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