RIM CIO works the enterprise ranks of BlackBerry users

'We've had some missteps,' she says, while committing to customer needs

Research in Motion CIO Robin Bienfait's last name means "well done" in French. She's hoping those two words apply to BlackBerry 10 smartphones once they ship in the first quarter of 2013.

"We're committed to our customers and want to see them successful," Bienfait said in an interview at MobileCon here. She said that since April, she's talked to 180 CIO's -- mostly from the U.S. -- who are RIM customers and many who have grown frustrated by RIM after years of working with BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) and BlackBerry smartphones.

The outage affecting BlackBerry users on several continents for several days a year ago was a big concern of the CIOs, she said, but also the slow rollout of new smartphones, including BlackBerry 7 devices in the U.S.

"Customers also want us to succeed, which is fantastic," she added. "We've done so well over the years and not to continue at that pace means we've disappointed them."

While she said enterprise customers in the U.S. still back RIM, the CIO added, "We've had some missteps, including not having devices in the carriers' hands that they can leverage, including putting BlackBerry 7 products in countries other than the U.S." Part of the problem with U.S. carriers was not having BlackBerry 7 available for LTE, she added.

Bienfait and her team have obviously had a big impact on BlackBerry 10, including how the software in the devices will be supported with security and other features by IT shops using BES 10 when it comes out at the same time. Her team has full access to device development and security and the way RIM manages the devices.

When it comes to the look and feel of the coming BlackBerry 10 devices, she's passionate that one of them will sport a physical keyboard with a Qwerty layout.

"I have to have a physical keyboard," she said, demonstrating how she uses her thumbs on both hands to type on a BlackBerry. "A lot of customers still want that physical keyboard."

She said her role at RIM means she focuses mostly on software service and support as they pertain to BlackBerry 10 and other products. "I give them feature input," she said of the designers.

But Bienfait also said her role includes oversight of BlackBerry operations, the enterprise business unit and internal RIM IT. Those duties mean she cares greatly about RIM's brand and reputation, which also means she cares about the BlackBerry 10, since it is seen as so crucial to RIM's future success.

Regarding network outages, Bienfait said that RIM is fully committed to improvements. "Yes, outages are always a big issue for customers and something we take very very seriously and don't have repeats," she said.

"We're making sure we test and audit all the time," she said. "It's something we invest in every quarter."

For consumer customers, the end user experience and the RIM app system could be more important than outages, "but uptime is also important," she said.

Bienfait said users are going to find some new features in BlackBerry 10 touchscreen smartphones impressive,including intelligence built in the OS to predict words a user might want to type in an email or other document based on a user's prior history and patterns. The words will be presented at the bottom of the screen and can be dragged up quickly into the body of a piece of text, she said.

Asked if that predictive feature might make her want to switch to a touchscreen instead of a physical keyboard, she said, "it might."

Bienfait is not French Canadian as her name might imply and since RIM is based in Waterloo, Ont. Instead, she lives in Georgia and travels to Waterloo often. She also speaks with a lilting southern accent.

Along with a master's degree in management of technology from Georgia Institute of Technology, she received her bachelor's in engineering from Central Missouri State University.

Before coming to RIM, she put in 23 years at AT&T and ran Bell Labs at one point, along with raising three sons and other duties. Asked whether being a woman in engineering has posed many difficulties, she said when RIM asked her to join its ranks, "I was never thought of as a lady in IT."

RIM officials knew about her primarily because she had deployed BlackBerry devices and software at AT&T, she said.

"You want to be hired as somebody who is competent and capable and not because you round out the diversity of the staff," she said.

RIM obviously sees her as apositive force, since she is appearing Wednesday as a keynote speaker at MobileCon before a large audience of IT managers who have come to watch the ups and downs of BlackBerry over the years with intense curiosity.

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 email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon