This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions
It is an unusual occurrence for me to receive a call from any company to discuss their support. Generally, the media gets all warm and fuzzy about tangible things, like new product launches, scoops and items you can put in the category of breaking news. Ironically, though, if you ask most companies what differentiates them from the pack, service and support is typically the most common answer. Yet, I can’t remember other companies asking me to meet their new head of global services.
One of the most important things you need to do when you have a complex system of networks carrying packets full of voice and video communication is ensure it all operates at peak efficiency. In other words, it is the area that could be most important to a customer – getting a communications and/or networking system back up and running after an outage is often an afterthought. It is hardly discussed.
But still, I was a bit surprised when the offer came from Avaya (News - Alert) to meet Mohamad Ali, President of Avaya Global Services. The company’s PR team was so excited about the meeting I decided to take it. I was tentative – but walked away impressed.
Ali started the conversation telling me he is passionate about service. What is more interesting is that he doesn’t come from the service and support space. In fact, his background is quite different and most impressive. He worked for IBM, where he led and integrated many acquisitions, such as Cognos (News - Alert), FileNet, Ascential Software, and he also was the program director of the GSM semiconductor business and co-led the PricewaterhouseCoopers acquisition, which transformed the company. He has also worked for Adobe and has an EE Bachelors and Masters from Stanford.
The reason this is important has to do with the fact that Ali can be doing anything – he could be heading up M&A at Avaya, managing the design of products and a whole host of other initiatives. When I mentioned this, the response was that Avaya CEO Kevin Kennedy (News - Alert) is a visionary and has said the company should be investing heavily in services and service technology as a differentiator. Moreover he said Kennedy was willing to put a key person in this role, which, to me, says a great deal.
So, half the story is about the resources Avaya is dedicating to support; the other half is that Ali is looking to radically simplify support and to dramatically reduce time to resolution. Where he received his inspiration is interesting. It turns out that he heard a presentation from a cancer researcher at Mass General, who spoke of the evolution of cancer treatment. It was once necessary for doctors to try treatment after treatment to determine the correct drug to prescribe – a hit or miss process. But, then, a machine was built that matched biopsy results to the right type of gene mutation, allowing improved results.
The goal, then, is to imitate the workings of the machine described above – and, in doing so, create true service innovation and of course differentiation. One point he made was that Avaya systems have diagnostics and alarms allowing for lots of output on which to perform diagnostic analysis. He contrasted this to a competitor (he didn’t mention any by name but, obviously, Cisco), which has a lot of disparate boxes making this task more difficult. Of course, Avaya recently acquired Nortel (News - Alert) – bringing a few disparate boxes into the mix as well.
One of the biggest pieces of news from Ali’s department is the new Avaya Support Advantage model features two packages Essential Support and Preferred Support. Moreover, support pricing has been detached from the underlying product, making it easier to determine the price based on a standard schedule. For customers who have multiple support contracts there is the option for co-termination and synchronized billing going forward. Some of the benefits to customers are easier management and budgeting, less paperwork, less bills, reduced time to resolution and better customer service.
Like I mentioned at the top – service and support is usually a talking a point in my vendor discussions and it rarely comes up in detail. Avaya seems to be committing serious resources into differentiating itself in this important area. Now the question becomes how important does this become to enterprises? We know IT departments are constantly being asked to do more with less – perhaps now is the best time for Avaya to be making this push. In addition to customers, I am looking forward to seeing how the rest of the information technology and telecom market responds to Avaya’s cancer treatment-inspired support improvements.
Rich Tehrani is CEO of TMC. In addition, he is the Chairman of the world’s best-attended communications conference, INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & EXPO (ITEXPO (News - Alert)). He is also the author of his own communications and technology blog.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi