News that Halliburton is dumping BlackBerry mars RIM's reinvention campaign

Energy company to replace 4,500 RIM devices with iPhones over next 2 years

This, as they say in the political world, is bad optics.

Energy drilling (and war-profiteering) multinational corporation Halliburton announced Tuesday that it would stop issuing BlackBerries to employees, who instead will be given iPhones.

Halliburton said the 4,500 BlackBerries currently in the field would be replaced over a two-year period with the Apple smartphone. According to the Globe and Mail in Toronto, Halliburton is making the switch "after deciding that Apple's technology works better with the programs it uses in the field."

While the loss of one corporate client isn't a disaster in and of itself, the news comes at a critical time for Research in Motion, which is trying to recraft the narrative around the company following the resignations last month of oft-criticized co-chief executives Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie.

For the past year the story has been about how RIM has fallen behind technologically and in market share, that it is out of touch with the post-iPhone landscape, and that it is incapable of shipping competitive products in a timely fashion.

But RIM's new CEO, Thorsten Heins, wants Wall Street to think of RIM not as a bumbling former market leader destined for oblivion, but as a security-conscious innovator with a competitive stronghold in the enterprise sector.

Just last week, Heins bragged to the New York Times that the iPhone and mobile devices running on Google's Android OS were in over their heads in the big, bad corporate world.

"When the first big security flaw even happens in one of the large enterprises, you will see this turn around," he said. "Wait for the day this happens."

Meanwhile, there goes Halliburton, not waiting for anything to happen. You can better believe it's not lost on CIOs around the U.S. and elsewhere that Halliburton hardly is a free-wheeling, experimental enterprise. This is a serious, conservative corporation. It's in the oil business! If Halliburton isn't afraid to walk away from RIM's secure embrace, what's to stop other large enterprises?

The big challenge for RIM now is to convince potential customers as well as Wall Street that it still matters. That it even has to mount that argument underscores how much RIM's fortunes have fallen in the past three years.

Having a high-visibility corporate customer switch to the rival that's clearly loosening the stranglehold on your core business doesn't help. If this continues, even these people won't be able to save RIM.

Shares of RIM (NASDAQ: RIMM) gained 14 cents, or 0.8%, to 16.71 on Tuesday. RIM's stock is up 15% so far in 2012, though it hit an eight-year low of 12.45 last December 20.

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