The recent economic downturn has led to the demise of many public and private organisations across the world. At the same time, others are innovating and staying competitive. One firm that has continued to set the pace for innovation is Research In Motion (RIM). RIM is a leader in the telecommunications industry that produces variety of product and services that has transformed communication globally. The product that clearly illustrates the leadership of RIM in the telecommunication industry is the BlackBerry.
This paper examines the following:
- Organisation and management of innovation studies, and research and development,
- Role of strategic alliances and collaboration in innovation processes.
The first part looks at the organisation and management of innovation and R&D in RIM by utilising three of the four frameworks asserted by Tidd and Bessant (2009), which are, search, select and implement.
The second part studies what role alliances and collaboration have in the innovation of BlackBerry. RIM will be used interchangeably with BlackBerry in this study; RIM has other services and products, but the focus of this paper is on its BlackBerry. It is crucial to provide some background information about RIM and the BlackBerry before approaching the discussions.
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RIM was founded in 1984 in Waterloo, Ontario Canada by Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin; in 1992 Jim Balsillie joined to become a Co-CEO. RIM initially started as a computer consulting business then gradually evolved into a communication service provider before launching a paging device in 1996. In 1999 RIM introduced an email device known as the famous BlackBerry; which has evolved to one of the most popular smart phones today. Since its initial launch, RIM has sold over 10million BlackBerry’s (CBC News 2008). RIM has 1200 staffs spread across offices in North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific (RIM 2010).
Unveiling the Blackberry
The Blackberry is a smart phone that uses the integrated blackberry network known as BlackBerry solution to provide its users access to email and communication. BlackBerry has been able to maintain its competiveness since its initial launch a decade ago. It was originally a two way paging device, but transformed over time to be one of the best smart phones today (RIM 2010). BlackBerry’s 40% dominance in the smart phone industry has placed RIM in the forefront of telecommunication innovation (Androitis 2010).
Organisation and management of innovation and R&D
There have been several researches which provide some insight into the organisation and management of innovation and R&D in firms and economy. One of the greatest pioneers of innovation studies, Joseph Schumpeter, laid the foundation for studying innovation; his depiction of innovation as a “process of creative destruction” which characterises of constant creation and destruction, is the origin of the attempt to understand innovation and how it can be managed (Tidd and Bessant pg 15 2009). Abernathy and Utterback (1978) opines that innovation can be managed by understanding the pattern that innovation follows; performance, variety, standardisation and cost.
In recent times, Tidd and Besant (2009) developed four phases in managing innovation management; search, select, implement and capture. Organisations can learn from framework and theories, nevertheless, they need to develop a unique strategy towards effectively managing innovation and R&D. RIM’s Blackberry success in the telecommunication industry within the last decade shows that they have an effective strategy that enables them to remain competitive.
Organisation and management of R&D in RIM
In analysing RIM, it appears that they have an open innovation system; they have developed an innovation strategy that is unique to their firm but similar to some theories and frameworks in innovation studies. The frame work prescribed by Tidd, Bessant and Pavit (2001) can be used to explain RIM’s organisation and management of R&D; search, select implement.
RIM’s culture of innovation has always centred on R&D enhancement and capacity. RIM’s R&D strategy focuses on staffs, users and partners. RIM has over 5000 R&D staffs out of its 1200 workforce; works with users in developing products and it additionally taps into partnership for expanding knowledge (Business Week 2008).
Over time, RIM has developed and maintained a culture of competitiveness within their staffs. RIM hold weekly vision sessions where ideas are generated and developed amongst staffs with various level of experience, ranging from entry level to managerial staffs (quote) This culture is reflective of Tidd et al (2001) theory of routine; RIM has developed a routine for scanning for ideas over time. In RIM, searching appears to focus on sustaining development and not responding to threats from competitors. Jim Balsillie claims his R&D management strategy is geared towards leadership Sweeney (2008, p. 149) quotes RIM’s Co-Ceo, Jim Balsillie “I play offense; there is no glory in defence”. This reflects an offensive strategy in searching for opportunities for development and not threats from competitors.
Rim relies heavily on its users through feed back for sustaining innovation. R&D teams work with feedback marketing gets from customers and from BlackBerry forums (Sweeney 2008). RIM’s idea of taking advantage of customers feedback and ideas in innovation management is synonymous with framework proposed by Tidd and Bessant (2009) “Indeed history suggest that users are sometimes ahead of the game-their ideas plus their frustration with existing solutions lead to experiment and prototyping and create early versions of what eventually become mainstream innovations” Tidd and Bessant, (2009 p. 244). Ideas and feedback from customers have lead to innovations and patents in RIM, a strategy that keeps them in the forefront of telecommunication (Sweeney 2008).
RIM is faced with the challenge of selecting practical and profitable ideas amongst many ideas R&D generates. RIM is able to manage this process by making BlackBerry the centre of R&D; by doing so, RIM is able to reach quick decision as to what to move to the next level of development (Business Week, 2008). This approach addresses the issue of imitation during creation and transfer of technology raised by Kogut and Zander (1992). RIM’s model of selection is organised and efficient enabling it to reach decisions to discard or implement innovations faster.
This stage is very important in management and organisation innovation and R&D. Brilliant ideas can not manifest into reality without the ability to transform ideas to market. This is the phase that Tidd and Bessant (2009) described as transforming R&D and innovations to end-users.
RIM coordinates implementation of innovation and R&D by maintaining effective communication between R&D staffs and manufacturing. Ideas developed and selected are quickly transformed into better or new hardware or software “RIM undertook the ambitious task of launching a record number of new BlackBerry smart phones that incorporated the latest chipset technologies, next generation network support, new high resolution displays, new and innovative input technologies and completely new user Interfaces”( RIM 2009).
RIM’s aggressive ability to implement ideas has successfully helped increase its market base from corporate clients that the first generation BlackBerry’s were made for, to ordinary low end customers. This is similar to the “Take Root in Disruption” theory postulated by Christensen (2002), in the sense that RIM targets all types of customers to expand market base of BlackBerry services , but not necessary to create disruption as Christensen (2002) suggest.
The Role of strategic alliances and collaboration in innovation processes
RIM has developed several alliances and collaborated with other firms in the past decade. These alliances are essential for the Blackberry services. This section underscores the role of such alliances and collaboration to RIM’s BlackBerry innovation processes. Some scholars have analysed collaboration and alliances and how they affect innovation processes. These studies provide some background for studying these concepts in innovation management.
One major contributor to this topic is Teece (1986) which highlighted the variables that determine alliances and collaboration; such as ‘appropriabilty regime’ and recommended complementary assets control. Tecce (1998) also postulated different types of alliances and collaboration that firms can engage in to maximise innovation; contractual mode, integration mode and mixed mode.
More recently, Tidd et al (2001) highlighted the types of alliances and the advantages and disadvantages of alliances and collaboration. Tidd et al (2001) further asserted that firms collaborate to reduce cost of developing other assets and to gain access into other technological terrain.
Roles of alliances and collaboration to innovation processes in Rim
The evolution of BlackBerry in the last ten years has revealed a fascinating technological trajectory. The development and sustenance of BlackBerry innovation is possible because of the alliances and collaboration RIM engages in. RIM’s alliances and collaboration with software developers, network providers and competitors has impacted its Blackberry innovation process. Alliances in form of licensing have led to the advancement of technology in RIM.
Licensing to use
One major alliance that had a major impact in BlackBerry innovation process is RIM’s alliance with Ericson, which allowed the former to use the latter’s license to develop 2.5G and 3G services (New Age Media, 2010). This enabled RIM to produce Blackberry’s that were 2.5G and 3G ready. This mirrors Teece (1986) Contractual Mode whereby companies in a weak ‘approbriability regime’ use licensing to assess complementary assets. RIM would fall in a high ‘appropriabilty regime’ in Teece (1986) frame work; however, such mode of alliances has been used to sustain BlackBerry Innovations.
RIM also licenses out the Blackberry technology to other device manufactures and competitors. For example, according to Nokia (2009) RIM’s alliance with Nokia enables Nokia to use BlackBerry services on their devices. This may have inadvertently driven up competition for BlackBerry. Licensing BlackBerry services to Nokia may have helped Nokia in developing smart phones, which compete with BlackBerry today. This could be viewed by some analyst as a bad strategy; however, such competition appears to drive further innovation in RIM, thereby advancing the BlackBerry technology. Schumpeter’s theory of ‘creative destruction’ is relative to the telecommunication industry, where manufactures constantly search for ways to innovate.
Another major role alliances and collaboration has had to RIM’s innovation process is knowledge transfer. Rim is able to acquire more knowledge from its partners; competitors, users and universities.
RIM’s strategy of forming alliances has proven to be successful in developing more knowledge. For example, in 2007, RIM and Face book combined to develop social networking software which was launched six months later Lawson (2007). This alliance allowed RIM staffs to work with staffs from Face Book, creating an opportunity for both companies to benefit from what Tidd and Bessant (2009) described as ‘Absorptive Capacity.
From R&D alliances
As stated earlier, Research and development in RIM appears to be decentralised. RIM relies on their University partners for basic research Business Week (2008). Therefore, RIM is able to assess basic research from their partners efficiently and timely. This plays a huge role in Blackberry’s innovation process.
RIM’s alliance with BlackBerry users highlighted in the first part of this paper has played an enormous role in Blackberry innovation process. RIM’s relationship with its users has been helpful in the evolution of Blackberry. Ideas and feedback from customers are rapidly transmitted to patents and BlackBerry development Sweeney (2008). The idea of benefiting from users knowledge obviously mirrors (Tidd and Bessant 2009) idea of ‘users as innovator’ in highlighting the sources of innovation. User knowledge is used to advance the BlackBerry technology.
Alliances and collaboration has helped in the innovation processes of BlackBerry and provided more knowledge to RIM which makes them remain in the forefront of telecommunication innovation.
This paper has assessed the organisation and management of innovation and R&D in RIM; and the role of strategic alliances and collaboration in innovation process. In an attempt to analyse these topics, I used some frameworks prescribed by other theorists and drew on relationships with others that relate to RIM. I have used search, select and implement with the exception of capture in Tidd and Bessant (2009) phase of innovation process to analyse the topic. The capture theme was not used because RIM’s success as highlighted by the paper is indicative of capturing the benefit of their innovation. RIM appears to have an open innovation approach; however, its strategy involves an aggressive internal R&D and manufacturing capacity centred on the BlackBerry. Putting all their efforts on one product could be a dangerous strategy in a time of increasing competition in the smart phone industry.
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Also, this study revealed that alliances and collaboration plays an important role in Blackberry innovation. Technological advancement of BlackBerry and knowledge transfer being highlighted as the main roles of alliances and collaboration to BlackBerry innovation processes. On the other hand, alliances with partners capable of copying their technology may make it more difficult for Blackberry to sustain its competiveness.
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