Avaya Snags Top Cisco Telepresence Exec
Phil Graham talks to us about his plans for video (and other endpoints) with Avaya. Can Avaya go toe-to-toe with Cisco and Polycom?
Avaya's Flare Experience user interface can do a lot of cool things, and now we know it can transport human beings from one place to another. Specifically, it moved Phil Graham from Cisco to Avaya.
In another sign that Avaya wants to be seen as a serious innovator in Unified Communications, the formerly-staid vendor this week hired Graham away from his position as the point person behind Cisco Telepresence, and put him in charge of all endpoints for Avaya. And in an interview yesterday, Graham told me that Flare was a signal that Avaya meant to break new ground in the communications future.
"I think that's why I'm here, frankly," Graham said, calling Flare a "very interesting paradigm of mixing information with applications. And then at the center of that experience is communications."
In announcing Graham's appointment as Vice President, Research and Development, Endpoints, Avaya stated that he will "play a key role in expanding Avaya's focus on next-generation endpoints that improve the user experience and effectiveness of business collaboration." That includes everything from the snazzy but very expensive Desktop Video Device tablet on which Flare made its debut, down to the lowly desktop phone (about which we'll say more shortly). But Graham is a video guy, and that's the major part of his mission with Avaya.
I asked him if his charge is to make Avaya a true videoconferencing vendor on a par with Cisco/Tandberg, Polycom, and their peers; he replied that while he's just beginning to chart a roadmap for video in his new role, the decision to hire someone with his background in video ought to be an indication of the direction that Avaya is heading in this regard. At Cisco, Graham served as VP of Engineering and CTO of that company's TelePresence portfolio, which put him in charge of development for all the TelePresence endpoint, multipoint, recording, and scheduling products.
Graham has a deep history in enterprise video; he came to Cisco from Precept Software, which created one of the first IP video products, and which Cisco acquired in 1998. He pointed out to me that Cisco had no real video product line before acquiring Precept, and subsequently built its interactive video and telepresence capabilities from that foundation. Within one product generation, Cisco had gone from Precept's technology, which was purely streaming IP video, to two-way capabilities.
He believes Avaya can build up its video product capabilities with similar dispatch. Though, again, it's still early in his tenure, he said, "We haven't talked about acquisitions" as a means of hastening Avaya’s path to market with a full-fledged video portfolio. As yet, there are no timetables for developing product offerings.
The biggest knock on the Avaya Desktop Video Device has been its price tag: a $2,000 street price when you include the cost of both the tablet hardware and the Flare software. I asked Phil what he thought of that price, whether he thought it was a model that could gain any traction. While not explicitly endorsing that price point, he said some people want a higher-end device that can support features a $500 tablet can’t.
"I love my iPad, but it's very much a consumption device; trying to create content on it is not very easy, and it only does one thing at a time," Graham said. Also, he said the iPad is "not set up as a device that's for a long video call. It's really set up for a quick little chat."