With the heavy focus on unified communications of late, it is no surprise that Avaya has put itself in the middle of that playing field — after all, Avaya has long been a key player IP communications. The potential productivity enhancements unified communications promises are central to the attention it has received, and in light of the growing demand, Avaya has recently revamped its unified communications offerings to meet that demand.
RT: The age of the information worker has finally arrived, with help from Avaya’s push into intelligent communications applications. What are today’s info workers looking for, and how does Avaya intelligent communications serve their needs?
ER: I’d like to answer that in terms of both the companies and the info workers themselves, because they’re both part of the buying process. In the enterprise, in other words, the experiences of info workers in their consumer lives are certainly a relevant influence.
Today, companies are trying to achieve a simplified and integrated experience with their communications needs. They have instant messaging, email, and, of course, their calendars and contacts; and they have their real-time voice and video and conferencing capabilities. All of their communications capabilities are spread across their mobile phones, their PCs, and their desktops. What unified communications seeks to do is to make that user experience much more simplified and integrated, to make the administrator and company experience much simpler, to lower total cost of ownership, so that, from both an IP perspective and a user perspective, there’s more productivity. That’s our vision.
Many companies, though, do not share that vision — at least not in those terms. What they’re trying to do is make their businesses better, and we see them actively dealing with business continuity issues, which is a big driver in today’s market. They’re trying to get a competitive edge by enhancing their customers’ experiences, by being more responsive to their customers. They’re trying to save money and be more connected to their customers by supporting mobile sales forces and work forces that are increasingly not located in one place. They may be teleworkers working from home, or they may be a distributed workforce — either way, it’s a way to save money.
From an IP perspective, these companies may have flat budgets, so, in order to make investments in next generation technology, they may need to deliver savings from other parts of their IT expenses. We see that 65 to 80 percent of companies are trying to address these issues. About 80 percent have a business continuity program; about the same number have a program to improve the customer experience; and about 60 percent support mobile employees or teleworkers. Clearly, when it comes to saving money, communications costs are very big. In fact, companies are looking at data that suggest that nearly 60 percent of mobile calls are actually made from the office, so, a huge part of their costs are facilities based, and all of these items are related to why companies buy unified communications.
Unified communications is one of the pillars of our intelligent communications strategy at Avaya. We are a leader in IP telephony, in voice messaging, and in conferencing, and our intelligent communications and unified communications strategy, then, is to link those capabilities with the instant messaging and email capabilities that are provided by the IBMs and the Microsofts of the world, and to integrate with them, and also on the video front with the Polycoms of the world, so that we can ultimately provide a completely unified experience.
RT: How essential is unified communications as part of a business’ communications strategy?
ER: We believe it is very essential, and it’s certainly an essential part of our strategy. But we believe companies are increasingly looking at it in the context of their other business challenges or opportunities, and as telephony and real-time communications have moved to IP, they’re now seeing the kinds of opportunities that are available to them to use real-time communications integrated with email and other applications as way to meet their communications needs. This wasn’t feasible in the past. It would have been extremely complicated and difficult, and could be been done only in very specialized applications, like in the contact center. But, with the move to IP, there are many new possibilities for companies to address these challenges.
IDC (News - Alert)
have a recent survey within the context of what are customers actually looking at, and over 50% of them are looking at unified messaging. In other words, they are interested in taking voice mail from something that you do over the phone to making it accessible from your cell phone or your PC. More than 50% are looking at teleworking and mobile sales force solutions; about 35% are looking at video conferencing; and about 30% are looking a dual mode phones. That’s a key part of our strategy, because we believe that companies want a single number, so that their customers can call their contacts at one office number, rather than having to dial office numbers and then cellular numbers to reach their contacts. With a unified communications system, the phone could ring at the office phone, but it can also be set to ring on a cell phone, or even on a home phone, if necessary. These applications improve customer service while lowering costs and maintaining a connection between the company and the customer.
RT: As an early innovator, what unique capabilities does Avaya bring to the unified communications space and how will Avaya leverage its expertise to help businesses gain the full potential of UC?
ER: Our uniqueness has been our leadership in the real-time communication space, which comes from having the most fully featured products that are the most reliable and sellable. With our unified communications center, we’re looking to extend unified communications to video. We are integrating it with the other components of UC, like instant messaging, email, and calendaring, and are making all of those forms of communication available via the office phone, the PC, or the cell phone.
But were out strategy is truly unique is that we push a multi-vendor solution. Companies already have an email system, and they may already have decided on their instant messaging infrastructure, and they may have decided on a video conferencing vendor. We are enabling them to move forward in a way that protects their investments by linking very closely to those choices, to the other leading vendors in the communications space. That’s a key part of our strategy as well.
RT: Avaya announced the repackaging of its UC solutions that simplify UC for users. How do you do this, and what have the reactions been from your customers?
ER: That is we’re very excited about. The response has been very strong from our customers and also from our sales force, which is a good sign. Bringing together so many different types of communications capabilities can be complicated, and what we have tried to do is simplify it for customers.
The repackaging basically starts with what we call the UC Essential edition. We’ve had many customers say this is the basic offering they will provide to all of their information workers. It consists of telephony, voice messaging, and basic conferencing — six-party conferencing.
The second offer is the UC Standard edition, which makes it easy for customers to extend those same rich, enterprise communications capabilities in telephony, conferencing, and in messaging to the PC or the cell phone. It’s one package, and regardless of your network configuration, we have a variety of solutions that will work so that our customers will be able to support remote workers with cell phone or PC access to voice mail and company directories.
So, the Standard Edition extends our enterprise capability to PCs and cell phones, and the Advanced Edition adds much more sophisticated voice and Web conferencing, and the Professional Edition brings incorporates video and speech access.
It’s all very simple. You can think about it from the basic, essential level of communication all the way up to the most sophisticated communications capabilities that may be required for executives or for product development teams or for sales forces that are trying to provide the ultimate in customer service. We think it will simplify the process and let people basically buy based on what their users’ characteristics are.
RT: What strengths does the acquisition of Traverse bring to Avaya in UC?
ER: It brings us strength particularly in the ability to offer our enterprise communications capability on a cell phone. Today, when you use your cell, people are just calling you and leaving you separate voice mails and you don’t have access to your enterprise directory. With the acquisition of Traverse, we now have a server and client functionality that will enable our customers to get access to that information from a cell phone. They can instruct people to call their office numbers, and the can configure from a cell phone when the call will ring at the office and when it’s going to ring the cell or any other number. They have control over where their office number rings and then, if they leave a message, users will be able to see that on their cell phones. Then, because it’s part of the office voice mail, they can forward it or do anything they can do from their office phone, from their alternative phones. They will also be able to manage conferences from their cell phones as well.
It really brings so much of the enterprise capability right to the convenience of the cell phone of a mobile worker, including all the richness that comes with having access to your enterprise communications system. So there are a lot of benefits that come to us from the Traverse acquisition work on over 500 phones
RT: Traverse was a partner that ended up in acquisition. How important are partnerships to evolving in the unified communications space? What kind of relationships and partnerships does Avaya have in this space?
ER: Partnerships are key, as you might expect in an area in which there are many players — there are players in the video space, in email, in voice, and in cellular, and they’re all different. With all of these coming together, partnerships are key, and we have two different kinds of partners. There are established companies that are already active in these spaces, like
Polycom (News - Alert)
, IBM, Microsoft, Nokia, and Motorola. Then there’s a whole other set of partnerships that includes companies, like Traverse, that want to build up locations on our platform. We are excited about the growth we have and people building applications on top of our applications, because we think that will create more value for customers. Both sets of partnerships are very important to us.
RT: What kinds of UC applications or capabilities make the work place more productive for employees?
ER: When you start with something that’s been around for more than 20 years, like voice mail, and you provide access to it from any device, to basic enterprise telephony features, from wherever you are, it’s amazing. It creates more productivity and cost savings.
If you’re working in a hotel room and you’re on the Web, you can make phone calls from your PC, using our systems and the telephone in the hotel room, but have the telephone calls made over the internet, you can save money and get more productivity. And it becomes even more valuable if you can see each other — some studies say as much as 50% more information is gained when you’re actually able to see the person with whom you are talking. We have many examples of how businesses have become more productive through the adoption of UC.
RT: Will unified communications cause companies to spend more on communications per seat?
ER: There is a lot of controversy over that in the industry. To the extent that companies are going to get richer functionality and provide it to more employees, there could be greater software spend per seat. But, I think, when you look at the total cost of ownership, that may not be the case.
Many companies today use hosted audio conferencing facilities, and we are finding that many of our customers are getting pay back in less than a year when they bring that software in-house, so it might cost them $10 per user, in terms of the software cost to bring the conferencing in-house. But, they’re probably spending anywhere between .02 and .09 a minute, so there is there is a large external charge that they may be saving, especially when they run it over their own network, when they can run many of these calls over their own network.
RT: If we leave VoIP out of the equation, is there a potential for them to be spending more on the applications?
ER: Again, it really depends. We live in a competitive world, and I’ve seen, over the last 25 years, increasing functionality provided at very reasonable costs to customers over time. I don’t necessarily make the straight line calculation that this is going to be a huge increase to our customers. They’re looking to save money, they’re looking to provide new capabilities, but they’re also being very careful about how they’re spending their money.
I used the example of conferencing intentionally, because that is an area in which they are intentionally saving money. They’re spending more on software, but it becomes increasingly harder to separate these spends. In the case of improvements to customer service from a sales force, they may be spending somewhat more, but if they are closing more business, does that justify it? There can be a vastly different view from that perspective.
RT: What are your thoughts on the collaboration between
Microsoft (News - Alert)
ER: Microsoft and Nortel have established a partnership. At the same time, Microsoft has established key partnerships with other leaders in the space, including Avaya, and, in fact, we believe that we have more comprehensive integration with Microsoft LCS than
Nortel (News - Alert)
does. We are committed to providing our customers superior standardization on Microsoft LCS.
Rich Tehrani is President and Editor in Chief at TMC.
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