Reflections on the Greatest Free Product Endorsement Ever, article in Forbes

November 16, 2012
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In his Forbes Technovation column, Peter High examines how RIM missed the boat on the consumerization of IT

by Peter High, published on


With the election in our rear view mirror, it is interesting to think about all that has come to pass over the last four years. Beyond the politics, however, I am reminded of how President Obama’s first election brought about perhaps the greatest product endorsement in history.  Though Presidents are not supposed to endorse one product or company over another or appear in advertisements for any company, on January 7, 2009, days before his inauguration and in the face of having to give up his personal phone for security reasons as his predecessors had done, the President-elect said, “I’m still clinging to my BlackBerry. They’re going to pry it out of my hands.” This was a product that was of such great use to him, and represented his connection to the life he was leaving, that he would force his Executive Office of the President (EOP) to change protocol so that he could keep his cherished device.  This is the sort of endorsement that companies dream about.

The truth is, as of early 2009, many business executives agreed that their BlackBerries were indispensable.  RIM had done a wonderful job of securing their devices, making them business-ready, while also focusing on making BlackBerry the premier communication device.  The keyboard made it ideal for emails and text messages in addition to being a robust phone.  Moreover, these devices were available through a variety of carriers, so companies did not necessarily need to change plans in order to purchase the latest and greatest devices from RIM.

On June 28, 2007, around the time Obama was crisscrossing the nation trying to secure the Democratic nomination, a different kind of phone was released with quite a hefty marketing budget, as Apple released its first iPhone.  Research in Motion (RIM – the maker of the BlackBerry) dismissed this new entity as a non-rival, as the iPhone was a personal device, and not something a serious businessman or businesswomen would deign to use for work purposes, to say nothing of a president.  The iPhone had all kinds of “weaknesses”.  In addition to the lack of a “real” keyboard, it was only available through one carrier, and a carrier that did not have the reputation for reliable service, especially in key business communities like New York and San Francisco.  Moreover, what CIO would ever let the iPhone access the company’s most sensitive data?  What RIM did not realize was that this was the tipping point of what has come to be referred to as consumerization of IT.

Though CIOs feared what a device like this would mean in terms of securing the network of the company, the truth is it was often they  who were the first to play around with iPhone, as CIOs are always interested in the newest technology toy to play around with.  The smart ones realized that it was so easy to use that it was a way to start a conversation with the rest of the organization.  If Luddite CEOs could grasp the power of using apps for everything from seeing their appointments for the day, to checking into flights, to reading news and analyst reports, they might see an application of the device to their company.

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