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Jim Prentice: I'm keeping my BlackBerry (Reuters)
Jim Prentice: I'm keeping my BlackBerry (Reuters)

JIM PRENTICE

I'm keeping my BlackBerry Add to ...

I plan on keeping my BlackBerry.

I say that for three reasons. First, because I may be addicted. Second, because it’s a simple and elegant device that has increased my productivity tremendously. And finally, because I believe it’s important that Canadians support our homegrown technology champions, especially a company such as Research In Motion with such an impressive record for innovation and global sales success.

RIM has had its share of challenges and critics lately. But it isn’t the first technology company to face technical problems or fierce competition in a changing market. IBM, Microsoft and even the current high flier, Apple, have all had their difficult periods.

Those companies not only adapted and survived but went on to bigger and better things. Given its impressive history of innovation, its strong leadership and its expanding and profitable global business, RIM is well positioned to prove it belongs among these long-surviving technology giants.

And that’s something all Canadians should be cheering.

I don’t mean to understate the challenges RIM faces in the smartphone market as it continues its expansion from the corporate sector into the broader consumer sector. For one thing, it’s going head-to-head with the two most valuable global brands (according to a recent survey) – Apple, with its iPhone, and Google, with its Android operating system.

And yet RIM is making that transition from a position of real strength, with more than 70 million BlackBerry subscribers worldwide and 50 million users of its popular BBM messaging system. Even in the consumer market, RIM has some impressive accomplishments. The company established its own version of an app store, called App World, in 2009. Since then, RIM has seen more than a billion app downloads with more than five million additional downloads every day.

Because of its security features, the BlackBerry remains the preferred device for the corporate and government sectors. Moreover, many large organizations have already invested heavily in BlackBerry servers and related equipment, so they likely won’t be jumping to an alternative any time soon.

RIM also has lots of support among telecom carriers because of its ultra-efficient use of bandwidth, an increasingly important advantage given the struggles carriers are facing due to the rapid growth of mobile data. RIM was the pioneer in mobile e-mail and paved the way for Canadian wireless carriers to expand into the lucrative data business, which is now outpacing their voice-only services.

Add in the new advanced BlackBerry 7 smartphones and soon-to-be-rolled out BBX mobile operating system, and there are obviously many reasons to be bullish on Canada’s leading technology firm.

This is a company, after all, that just made Deloitte’s list of Technology Fast 50 – the 50 fastest-growing tech companies in Canada over the past five years – for the 14th consecutive year. RIM’s revenue grew by a remarkable 634 per cent during that five-year period. That’s a remarkable achievement for an organization with more than 17,000 employees.

What’s also remarkable is the impact that RIM’s global success has had on Canada’s technology industry. Not only has it created thousands of direct and spinoff high-value engineering, software and manufacturing jobs in Canada, but it has shown other technology companies that you don’t have to leave Canada, or sell to a multinational, to succeed on the world stage.

RIM was created in Kitchener-Waterloo, and it’s still there – not in Silicon Valley or Boston or one of the European tech centres. From its Southern Ontario base, RIM has grown since 1984 to become a globally recognized brand (No. 25 in the recent ranking) with sales in every corner of the world.

Not only has RIM created opportunities for Ontario engineering and other university graduates, it has attracted skilled and experienced technical people from around the world. Any company like RIM that can help reverse Canada’s brain drain is doing all Canadians a great service. After all, these are the innovators who will create and build the industries and jobs of the future.

RIM co-leaders Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie certainly understand that and take their roles in Canada’s tech economy very seriously. Between them, they’ve donated hundreds of millions of dollars to research and business initiatives, and millions more to Canadian universities.

One such investment – $150-million to create the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics – has resulted in a cluster of international scientists pushing the limits of our fundamental understanding of space, time, matter and information. It has helped put Canada on the map in terms of advanced research.

The research may be theoretical in nature, but the institute is a practical investment in the future of science, technology and innovation in Canada.

Ken Coates, a history professor at the University of Waterloo, recently wrote in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record that “Canadians are a little self-conscious about celebrating success – we are a little hard on high-profile people – but we should be cheering on Research In Motion. There is much more at stake than RIM’s share price. Canada’s standing as an innovation nation is on the line.”

He’s absolutely right. And that’s why I’m keeping my BlackBerry and cheering for RIM.

Jim Prentice, a former federal industry minister, is vice-chairman of CIBC.

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