UC3 News — 15 February 2018
Blair Pleasant JPG
Optimism Returns to Avaya Engage by Blair Pleasant

More than 3,000 Avaya partners and customers, as well as analysts and consultants, converged on the “Big Easy” to attend Avaya Engage and hear Avaya’s post-bankruptcy story (as well as great jazz on Bourbon and Frenchmen Streets). When not indulging in beignets, jambalaya, and Hurricanes, attendees got to hear from Avaya executives, including CEO Jim Chirico, new cloud head Mercer Rowe, and many others.

What impressed me the most was the optimism I saw at the Engage event – especially from channel partners who were all breathing a sigh of relief and were clearly pleased that the worst was behind them. Chirico reassured customers and partners that Avaya is back on track, with a “Renewed focus on customers and partners, while aligning the voice of customers to our R&D investments.” During his opening address, he mentioned the four quarters of stabilized revenue in a very challenging year, noting, “Never in my 10-year tenure have I seen that.” He also stated that during bankruptcy, Avaya has continued to develop and deliver innovation solutions, some of which we heard about at the event. 

My impression from talking to Avaya employees and partners is that a key reason people are feeling optimistic is the confidence they have in Chirico and his leadership. He is very well respected and has earned a reputation as a strong leader. Within his first few months on the job he shuffled the management team and brought in several executives from outside the industry to help get Avaya back on track. 

Think Avaya Think Cloud

Chirico is also behind Avaya’s focus on the cloud, which was clearly missing in the past. The company’s new mantra is “Think Avaya Think Cloud.” New to the executive team is Mercer Rowe, Avaya SVP and GM, Cloud, who is tasked with Avaya’s cloud strategy and driving solutions to the cloud. Rowe clearly has a great deal of work ahead of him, as Avaya needs to catch up to competitors with stronger cloud stories. He told the audience that every product will be developed with a cloud-first mindset, from both a technology perspective, as well as a route to market, and noted that Avaya is investing in new people and R&D, while focusing on speed and simplification.

To that end, Avaya announced its acquisition of Spoken, which was an Avaya partner providing a BPO cloud offer, and developed a multi-tenant contact center as a service (CCaaS) offering based on the Avaya Aura platform. This now gives Avaya a multitenant contact center as a service, or CCaaS platform, and eventually they’ll also use the Spoken platform for a UCaaS offering, although the details of this were fuzzy. As the infomercials would say, but wait – there’s more. Spoken also has AI capabilities, notably IntelligentWire. Spoken’s IntelligentWire performs real-time speech-to-text transcription and analyzes every conversation in real time, turns it into text, summarizes it, and puts it into applications such as Salesforce. According to Avaya, this changes the economics of the contact center, as after-call work can be radically reduced, while providing businesses with insights into what their customers are really saying. It will be interesting to see how Avaya leverages Spoken’s AI capabilities to go beyond contact center use cases.

I met with Mo Nezarati, Vice President, Avaya Cloud, who expanded on Avaya’s cloud strategy. As Mo notes in this video interview, Spoken gives Avaya the ability to provide pure cloud, multi-tenant capabilities that will begin with CCaaS and expand to UCaaS. Mo also noted that Zang will be folded into the Avaya Cloud Business Unit, which he describes as a company within a company that is focused on cloud delivery. Expect to see a rebranding of Zang as it becomes part of the Avaya Cloud Business Unit, and elements of Zang shift to the Avaya Cloud.

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Announcements Galore

At the event I had the opportunity to speak with Karen Hardy, VP Product & Solutions Marketing, about Avaya’s key messages to partners. Karen discussed some of the new announcements, including Spoken, as well as UC Everywhere, bringing Avaya Equinox to the cloud and to IP Office, as well as other announcements.

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While the focus of the event seemed to be on Avaya’s contact center business, due to the Spoken acquisition news, I had a chance to speak with Mike Kuch, Senior Director, Solutions Marketing, who is responsible for all things UC related. In this video, Kuch describes some of Avaya’s announcements, including Equinox Attendant Client, Equinox Meetings Online global expansion, and new endpoints. 

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I’ve been complaining for the past couple of years that Equinox only supported Avaya Aura and not IP Office, and I was very pleased to hear about Avaya Equinox on IP Office, which is expected in the second quarter of 2018. I was also glad to hear that Avaya enhanced the Vantage device experience and portfolio, providing support for Avaya IP Office, as well as enhanced Avaya Equinox integration. Vantage is a very impressive device that is built on Breeze that makes it possible to create innovative applications and use cases for businesses.

AI and More

Laurent Philonenko, Senior VP and GM of Solutions & Technology, and Jean Turgeon (JT), Chief Technologist and Evangelist, discussed innovations such as using blockchain for fraud protection, as well as Quantum computing to provide security capabilities for Avaya solutions. JT and Philonenko stated that Avaya is a platform for blockchain, IoT, AI, etc., which will be used for a variety of UC and contact center use cases in the next few months.

Avaya also made announcements related to its A.I. Connect program, which supports AI-enabled Avaya partners. Avaya introduced several new AI partners, which Jon Alperin, Director A.I. Connect, DevConnect Programs, discusses in this video. Alperin talks about Avaya’s AI initiatives, including Smart Routing, Enhanced Self Service, Agent Augmentation, Intelligent Insights, and Enhanced Workforce Optimization. 

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As Alperin noted, one of Avaya’s new A.I. Connect partners is Arrow SI. In the exhibit hall, I met with Andrew Prokop of Arrow SI to get a demonstration of Arrow Connect and its IoT capabilities. In this video, Prokop shows how Arrow Connect technology can easily be put into Avaya Breeze to create new applications integrated with IoT technology.

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The Good and the Not-So-Good

Avaya has clearly been busy in the past few months – new management, new product announcements, a new channel program, and more. As I mentioned, the channel partners and customers I spoke with were pleased with what they heard at the event and believe that they have a path forward. However, as noted in the UCStrategies podcast about Avaya and the Engage event, Avaya will have to earn back its customers’ trust, which will take some time.

The Spoken acquisition gives Avaya a quicker way to bring multitenant cloud services to market, especially for CCaaS (we’ll have to see how the UCaaS piece comes together). While Avaya’s messaging still needs to be clarified and I would have liked to have heard a more tangible cloud story, it’s currently a work in progress. At this point, it’s unclear what cloud services Avaya’s channel partners should focus on selling, as the Avaya Cloud is still being defined. I heard some conflicting messages about Zang, for example, as Avaya figures out how best to utilize the Zang elements. I hope and expect to see a more solidified strategy in the next few months, providing clear guidance to partners. 

Based on what I heard at an analyst NDA session, Avaya has some interesting innovations that it will be announcing at Enterprise Connect and in the months to follow. Much of this R&D work harkens back to Avaya’s Bell Labs roots and could become interesting adjacencies for the company. We’ll have to wait and see.

I left Engage with many more questions, which is to be expected as the company is trying to redefine itself in some ways, and many initiatives are “works in progress.” I expect to see Avaya more clearly define its cloud strategy, especially on the UCaaS side. I give credit to Avaya and the new management team, notably Mercer Rowe and Nikos Nikolopoulos, Avaya SVP, Corporate Strategy, Development and Marketing, who have been with the company for only a few weeks and had to present in front of a challenging analyst audience. 

It was nice to see optimism return to Avaya employees, partners, and customers, and I wish Avaya the best of luck as it continues on its current path. 

 

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