Regardless of what the company’s future might be, the rise and fall of BlackBerry is set to be a business school case study for many years.
It’s a classic example of the innovator’s dilemma – a firm that has great success from a unique innovation, which in BlackBerry’s case was email on the go with a full keyboard, and is then incapable of changing its business when its innovation is superceded.
For fear of cannibalising its own sales with something new, the innovator with a dilemma sees its sales cannibalised by everyone else.
As BlackBerry’s fall over the cliff accelerates – revenue fell by half in just three months – those involved at the top start to point the finger of blame. There are now regular reports in the Canadian press where un-named former executives reveal the chaos in BlackBerry’s boardroom and the disagreements over strategy.
One report suggested that company bosses believed mobile operators would never let consumers freely use data services for fear of clogging up their network. How wrong that was. It has echoes of the HMV director who said music buyers would never want to forego browsing in a shop.
A likely move into private ownership is the immediate future for BlackBerry, followed by some difficult decisions on which products are worth continuing.
The handset business has to be in doubt. By withdrawing from the consumer market, the chance of selling smartphones to businesses is gone. BlackBerry admits that it failed to adapt fast enough to the “bring your own device” (BYOD) trend.
With no consumer devices, that slowly kills BBM, the instant messaging service beloved by teenagers. Attempts to offer BBM as an app for other smartphones have faltered, and it’s still not clear how the company would make money from it.
So the focus comes back to the firm’s roots in the enterprise, and to BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 (BES 10), the secure mobile device management software that now caters for iPhones and Android too. The BES subscriber base is surely the company’s most valuable asset.
But even here, we now learn that take-up has failed to meet expectations, mainly because IT buyers associate BES with buying BlackBerry handsets.
Computer Weekly’s story about BES being extended to iPhone and Android handsets has been one of our most-read articles in recent months, suggesting that our IT management readers retain an interest in the product.
BES 10 needs to be a success, or there is little left for a company formerly hailed as the one of the world’s finest. The lessons are there to be learned by leaders of every technology supplier.