RIM founder apologizes for BlackBerry outages

Can vigorous, though late, PR campaign can keep RIM customers from leaving for Apple, Android?

Research in Motion founder and Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis today apologized to millions of customers hit by three days of global BlackBerry service outages.

Lazaridis issued the apology in a short video clip posted on RIM's web site.

In the unprecedented video, Lazaridis acknowledged that he could not predict the timing of a full global recovery, and for the first time referred to the worldwide BlackBerry problems as "outages." Many prior communications from other RIM offiicials called the problems "service interruptions" or "delays."

The video apology and his short recap of improved BlackBerry service levels in Europe, Asia, India and Africa came after RIM CIO Robin Bienfait posted a written apology and update of improved global BlackBerry service levels on the RIM Web site late Wednesday night.

"I apologize for the service outages this week," Lazaridis said in the 1:40 minute video clip posted at 6:20 a.m. EDT Thursday. "We've let many of you down. But let me assure you we are working around the clock to fix this. You expect better from us and I expect better from us."

A message from RIM Founder and Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis on the BlackBerry Service Outage [Oct. 13, 2011]

Lazaridis continued to say that RIM is "approaching normal service levels in Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa" but he did not specifically address service levels in other parts of the world. "It's too soon to say that this issue is fully resolved."

Lazaridis also warned: "We expect to see continued progress, and possibly some instability, as the system comes back to normal service levels everywhere. I'd like to give you an estimated time of full recovery around the world, but I cannot do this with certainty at this time."

Lazaridis promised to update BlackBerry customers "soon."

The messages from Lazaridis and Bienfait came after days of criticism from analysts and users over RIM's lack communicating how the outage was caused and was being addressed.

The video came as somewhat of a surprise to some longtime RIM analysts who regard Lazard's as a gruff leader whose engineering prowess was a key to the success of the firm he founded in 1999. In the past year, Lazaridis has been seen in testy exchanges with reporters and other questioners asking about RIM's recent sinking financial performance and other matters.

"RIM never had to worry about public relations before," said Jeff Kagan, an independent analyst. The video clip "is the first time I can ever remember RIM taking this [public relations] responsibility seriously."

Kagan said the video apology comes as RIM faces stiff smartphone challenges from Google and Apple in the company's traditional stronghold market, the enterprise. "Now is when they need good public relations, but they don't have a clue how to achieve it because they were never concerned with it before," Kagan said.

"Since RIM is struggling, someone must have had the idea to talk to users, to try to smooth out the rough waters," he added.

Despite the sudden PR outreach, Kagan nonetheless predicted the three-day outage means that "RIM will take a hit and customers will leave."

Other analysts were more guarded, saying customers who are considering leaving RIM over this outage will have to weigh many factors, including whether the alternatives are going to be better.

The Lazaridis video was a "good and necessary step," said Ramon Llamas, an IDC analyst. "Still people want to see results."

Llamas said apologies from RIM alone won't do nearly as much as solid performance.

"Apologies are a necessary step, but not the be-all and end-all," he said. "Results will keep customers from leaving better than apologies," Llamas said.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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