BlackBerry was once the darling of the enterprise mobile world. Its buying power among its supplier base was impressive, allowing it to develop strong partner relationships with manufacturers that relied heavily on the Canadian company for orders and revenue.
But with the rapid rise of IT consumerisation coupled with the growth of Android and iOS operating systems, BlackBerry has lost its footing and has been focused on salvation by reinventing itself as a private company.
During this period of uncertainty, there has been speculation that the company formerly known as Research in Motion's future is no longer in mobile hardware. Therefore, some say, BlackBerry is likely to move away from its electronics supply base.
As a consequence, key suppliers such as Jabil Circuit have claimed publicly that they will need to take steps to distance themselves from the former mobile giant.
Perhaps this is somewhat inevitable. Nevertheless, during this period of uncertainty BlackBerry should be doing everything it can to nurture relationships and maximise stability among these key suppliers.
While BlackBerry's future business model is undeniably uncertain, its immediate goal should be to ensure that it is business as usual for its millions of customers - and its suppliers and partners are a major part of that.
If suppliers are left in the dark or feel there is little reason to hang around, they could decide to cease the relationship, taking yet more control out of BlackBerry's hands, at a time when the handset maker needs to demonstrate its stability and the strength of its critical assets to potential investors.
The company's supply base could be transformed in the future. However, right now, the onus is on the company to demonstrate that partners are an integral part of its ecosystem.
After all, there's the possibility of shared IP to consider, a highly valuable asset in its own right. Strategic suppliers are absolutely part of the package from the perspective of a wise investor.
History tells us that in-depth decisions about the precise future of a company under new ownership or management are unlikely to be made until well after the new leadership is installed.
There will probably be a number of options on the table, with investors interested in buying all or just specific assets of the company - people, technology, intellectual property, brand and so on.
Only then will they be able to decide what the future holds. For BlackBerry the smart move would be to focus on supplier relationship management and even bring key suppliers into the discussion about its future, to meet with investors and demonstrate the high quality of its supply chain.
The focus should be firmly on collaboration and communication, to retain as much goodwill as possible with supply chain partners. If these relationships slide, so could the value of the deal, or even the deal itself.
BlackBerry needs to try to moderate partner reactions to its position, but this is exacerbated by the fragmented and global nature of a technology supply chain such as this. Just like in the automotive industry, if a manufacturer goes to the wall, the effect could spread beyond tier-one partners to many more organisations.
A ripple effect will work its way through various components and parts suppliers too. This possibility might encourage suppliers to take matters into their own hands, removing key links in the chain and potentially weakening BlackBerry's overall ability to recover. It is possible that supply partners may have much to offer that could strengthen BlackBerry's position and increase its chances of a positive sale.
The development of channel and supplier relationships is often linked to growth strategies - for good reason. However, the current BlackBerry situation demonstrates the value of working with suppliers and partners in difficult times too.
As its supply chain continues to speculate publicly about life without BlackBerry, long before the direction of the company becomes known, the ailing mobile brand would do well to remember those who have served it during good times.
Partners should ensure they are informed and consulted about the process the vendor is going through and what potential parts to play remain. Otherwise, the supply chain may well take its own counsel, and look to other customers or markets. This could leave BlackBerry in the lurch just when it might need those supplier relationships more than ever.
Daniel Ball is business development director at Wax Digital
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