BlackBerry is back

With hindsight huge issues, such as the recent BlackBerry service outage, may not have been as critical as they seemed at the time. If asked we would not, or could not, imagine life without our various devices, especially our key communicator — the mobile phone.

Imagine going back to the time that we only placed a call, or on the odd occasion sent a text message on your phone. That time was not all that long ago, when we could all wander around without any real danger of being bowled over by a smartphone toting suit with urgent business. The recent outage of BlackBerry services brought into stark relief how dependant we have become on the services on offer from mobile devices. The Apple and Android brigade may have had a field day making fun of the frustrated Berry users, but the issues the outage raised apply to all of us.

To put this in perspective, the failure BlackBerry experienced in its core network was truly significant. Firstly it affected a huge swathe of the world, and then the knock on effects were felt everywhere with mail backing up and BBMs not getting delivered. The fact is hardware fails, switches die, and backup plans fail. It may not be good for those depending on the services, but it simply does happen.

The real failure was RIM’s lack of communication, although to the credit of RIM it came back fast and is now almost over-communicating to compensate. A local network operator Vodacom, to its credit kept sending those old school SMSes letting us know what was going on, and this is actually where the true communication responsibility lies, not with RIM who is a service provider to the networks. The BlackBerrys we hold dearly in our hands are all connected via mobile operators who charge us for the service, and it is those operators who should be informing their customers what is happening to their services. In spite of the system failure of BBM we could still all make that proverbial call, or even send an SMS in dire need.

It is a frightening insight that the lack of a service for a few hours in a few days can get us all so hot under the collar that we forget days, weeks, and in fact years of perfect unbroken service. We then lash out, and go as far as to predict the demise of an innovative, and truly viable company, which currently has tens of millions of loyal customers across the globe. The lesson learned for all here is that over-reliance on one form of communication, no matter how convenient, can be a problem. Commentators and industry experts all hopped on the bandwagon of military similes and declared the “war Lost” for BlackBerry, or used similarly emotive, “last nail in the coffin” analogies. The truth of the matter may be very different indeed.

As we get more and more connected we will become increasingly reliant on the communication services on offer and that is not something BlackBerry users are uniquely exposed to. Gmail servers have gone down on occasion, and millions have had no access to their mails for extended periods. The simple answer is always to have a backup plan for critical services, and that backup plan could be as simple as ensuring you have people’s phone numbers, and not just their BlackBerry BBM pins. It was once again enlightening how many people could not call key customers, colleagues, and even family members, as they had only a BBM pin and not full contact details.

The service outage actually may have played rather well, if a little unwelcome, into RIM’s strategy. Not that is recommended for any company to get attention this way. What was becoming apparent was that BlackBerry was losing the hearts and minds of many who used to be avid fans, and were now becoming evangelical of the new shinier iPhone or Android device. The crisis brought into sharp focus how not to run a company.

RIM is now hyper aware of how important its customers are to their continued success. Free airtime, SMSes, and other compensation, are on offer from the South African mobile operators. As a final sweetener, and in my opinion a truly clever strategy to grow, RIM is offering free premium apps from the on device App World. The apps themselves are a good spread of productivity, and entertainment, with a total value of US$100 which is a huge benefit.

We all find it hard to resist something for free, and this offer will have the benefit of ensuring that millions of BlackBerry users will now download apps. Even those who had never previously registered for or used the App store will feel compelled to register, and at the very least download a few of the free apps, or else they will feel they have left something on the table. Brilliant. App Store registrations will skyrocket and download numbers will boom, all very profitable for BlackBerry and its developer community.

On the Head office front, as a result of this massive outage, the RIM key executive have never been more accessible, they send mails, they make YouTube videos, your emails get answered. Talk to local representatives and they come back to you with real information, real fast. This is a refreshing change for a company that was proud to be a little measured and remote. Even the investor community appear to be suitably pleased with the new face of BlackBerry with stock prices modestly recovering from the lows of the crisis.

New operating systems from BlackBerry, as well as a crop of fresh new devices in the wings, will help to consolidate this upward trend.

At the core RIM really does understand the mobile environment, and makes a system that is really simple to use as well as hugely effective overall. The genesis of the new fresh and responsive Blackberry organisation may well be hidden in the fallout of the outage disaster. It often takes a crisis to precipitate change. And in this instance change will be good for us all.



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