RIM – the new DEC

There was a great story going on this week about an anonymous letter written by a RIM employee to senior management, AKA the co-CEO’s Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis.  The employee wrote a heartfelt, if not cautionary letter to management essentially saying things must change dramatically if they are to survive.

   Then there was an arrogant reply by “management” essentially saying “no problem here. RIM ” To see the stories from BGR click here.

In reading this employee’s letter I felt like I could have written the same thing 15 years ago when I was working for DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation).  How many of you remember DEC now?  Exactly.  So a little history first.

DEC (or more precisely it’s founder Ken Olsen) invented interactive computing.  Before DEC, the only computers where the large behemoths you’ve read about in history books that filled a warehouse and were run by the IT Gods.  One did not sit at a keyboard and interact with the computer.  One typed up instructions on cards and handed them to a priest who when ready fed your deck of cards to the computer.  Time would pass (usually hours) and eventually a priest would hand you a printout that would give you the answers you sought.  Or maybe it just pointed out a typing error and you had to start over.

Anyway, Ken Olsen came up with the concept of humans interacting with a computer via a keyboard and the computer answering them directly.  I know it’s hard for many to conceive when this wasn’t the case, but trust me on this.  So DEC led the world into this new realm with its PDP, VAX and then Alpha computers.  DEC was the second largest computer manufacturer in the world, second only to IBM.  We were virtually invincible.

But the market changed and DEC didn’t.  (A story for another day.)  A victim of massive success, just like RIM, DEC management couldn’t bring itself to make the big changes necessary to catch the next wave and survive.  DEC ushered in interactive computing just like RIM ushered in mobile (handheld) computing.  It takes a lot to step away from such success and make major changes.  DEC couldn’t do it and eventually were bought out by Compaq which was then bought out by HP.  For RIM, it appears they can’t do it, so its only a matter of time.


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