What Makes RIM Run?

Opinion: As hardware commoditizes, Research In Motion's BlackBerry is prospering, with smart partnering making this one handheld you can't let go of.

The business profile for the wireless sector, it seems, has caught up with the rest of the industry—or down, as the case may be.

An influx of inexpensive 802.11 components from Taiwan is making it harder and harder to earn a decent margin on hardware. Not only have prices on 802.11b equipment fallen to near give-away levels, 802.11g has also taken a downward turn.

Just this week, Conexant Systems preannounced depressed earnings that the company attributed to competitive pressures.

At the same time, the outlook for value-add products and services couldnt be brighter. Contrast Conexants earnings report with that from Research In Motion. RIMs first-quarter net income of $55 million on total revenues that rose to $269.6 million from $104.5 million a year earlier and the company forecasts continued growth as device manufacturers such as Motorola Inc., Nokia Corp. and Siemens AG introduce BlackBerry services on their devices.

Those fine people who put e-mail at our fingertips anytime, anywhere are—with a little help from their friends—building the BlackBerry into a data delivery platform. And their success with it testifies to the power of partnerships and the markets that are cultivated through the applications and services they develop.

TransAlta, a Canadian energy and trading company with operations in Canada, the United States, Mexico and Australia, is using the BlackBerry platform to push operational data out from its SAP back end to managers in the field.

Paul Kurchina, technology program manager at the company, introduced RIMs BlackBerry Enterprise Server to Transaltas pit mining operation in Centralia, Washington, to cut hours—if not days—out of the key management decision cycles.

The BES, Kurchina said, "allows workers in the pits to look at the detail of things like purchase orders and say yes or no without having to go back to the office. In the old world, a manager with purchase orders to approve would have to go back to his desk. But why couldnt it be pushed out on a BlackBerry?"

In a mining operation where the office is typically miles away, the messaging system has enabled a "virtual office" that allows managers to spend more time in the field tending to mining operations than to paperwork.

"We use SAP pretty much wall to wall," Kurchina said, "managing data ranging from financials to plant maintenance, marketing, management and human resources. Our people are saving a lot of time in terms of interaction," he said. "Theyre able to make quick decisions."

Next page: RIM partners to drill into new markets.