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Avaya Engage Dubai Delights with Innovation

As an industry analyst, I go to a lot of conferences. Some can be a drag, while others are fun, exciting, and eye opening. Recently I had the opportunity to attend Avaya Engage Dubai with UCStrategies colleague and world-famous tweeter, Evan Kirstel, and the event was definitely one for the latter group, filled with eye-opening excitement. After all, it's not every day you go to a conference with 1,500 attendees from around the globe, receive a private tour of the world's only 7-star hotel by its former CIO, visit the world's tallest building, and shake hands with royalty. Oh, and ride a camel, too.

Avaya Engage Dubai brought together customers and partners from Europe, the Middle East, the Asia Pacific region, and Africa to discuss digital transformation and how the "experience is everything." During his opening keynote, Nidal Abou-Ltaif, President of Avaya International (EMEA & APAC), talked about the need to "deliver the differentiated experiences that customers are looking for that will encourage them to do more business with an organization."

He added that digital transformation projects are complex, requiring the proper platform and tools, and that Avaya is committed to helping organizations achieve their digital transformation objectives, highlighting several customers with which Avaya has been working.

Abou-Ltaif also addressed the uncertainty surrounding Avaya's organizational and financial challenges while looking to the future, telling the audience that Avaya's primary focus is taking care of and continuing to serve its customers, partners, employees. He pointed to Avaya's positive Q4 2016 financial results, and assured the audience that it's business as usual at Avaya.

What impressed me the most at the event was the innovation on display from Avaya, its customers, and development partners. During a video interview, I asked Abou-Ltaif why there seems to be so much innovation coming out of his regions. He said that in many of these countries, companies are trying to catch up with their counterparts in more established regions and are using technology to bridge the gap quickly in order to serve their customers. He also noted that the majority of people in those parts of the world are under 35 and highly mobile, requiring businesses to develop services that meet the needs of this new type of customer. As was evident at the event, Avaya's customers have done a great job of innovating and coming up with solutions that meet the needs of their end customers.

One example of an extremely innovative Avaya customer is Emirates National Bank of Dubai (NBD). Ali Sajwani, Group CIO, told the audience that the bank sponsors innovation competitions at schools and universities, and has an "Innovation Day," where people sit down to discuss new ways of solving problems. It also recently had its first hackathon, drawing 200 participating companies.

The bank is using a variety of leading-edge technologies to provide enhanced service to its customers, such as virtual assistant technology that understands the customer's voice, including dialects and accents, and uses AI technology to perform tasks on behalf of users. The bank showcases new products and services at its Future Lab, a strategic think tank and testing center for innovative ideas, products, and services for its customers. The Future Lab features an AI robot named Pepper that engages with customers by asking questions and telling them about relevant products and services.

I had the opportunity to visit Emirates NBD's Future Lab, and meet Pepper, try out a virtual reality real estate experience, and sit in the Visa Connected Car, which is an app that gets downloaded to the car enabling users to make payments from the car. For example, if you want to park in a paid parking spot, the app reserves the nearest available spot, and when you park and turn off the car you get charged by the minute, rather than by the hour. You can even order food and make the payment from your car. The restaurant tracks your location, and brings you the food when you're close enough to the restaurant.

The majority of sessions at Avaya Engage Dubai were around the topic of digital disruption. As Savio Dias, Director Solution Engineer, AMEA, explained, "We've moved from instant communications to constant communications." He added, "Data is the new oil" -- a rather interesting point to make in the Middle East! Dias mentioned three key disruptors: IoT, AI, and Blockchain, which is a new way of monetization. Avaya will be taking an active role in each of these areas.

We saw a very cool virtual reality demo from EXP360, which offers a VR sales solution for the travel and tourism industry. EXP360 integrated its solution into Avaya Oceana Workspaces to help agents guide customers through the immersive experience. Travel agents provide customers with a cardboard VR headset with a QR code; the customer downloads the EXP360 app on their smartphone, and can see a hotel property as if they are there in person. The customer can place a call that is triggered from within the EXP360 app to connect to an agent and get live support. Using the Oceana Workspace, the agent is immersed into the customer experience, seeing what the customer sees, and can guide the customer and push content to them or change the scene for the customer to view.

One of the stars of the show was Avaya Breeze, as many of the customers on the main stage discussed how they're using Breeze to build applications very rapidly. KDDI Evolva, Japan's leading BPO, chose Breeze as its next-gen platform to develop its apps, such as its contact center in the cloud. Using their smartphones, customers can begin an interaction with an AI bot, and then escalate to a voice interaction with a live agent, with the customer interaction history available to that agent.

Another interesting customer building on top of Breeze is the Netherlands Police Agency, working with Dutch telecommunications company KPN to develop E-Call, a next-gen emergency service. Noting that emergency services are very voice centric, 112 in the Netherlands (similar to our 911 service in the U.S.) is changing the game by adding location data, as well as personal and vehicle data, to determine the severity and location of an emergency. Willem van Alphen, Tactical Process Manager for emergency services with Netherlands Law Enforcement, noted that we can order a pizza and have it delivered to the right location immediately, but when we call 911 (or 112 in the Netherlands) we can't get help right away.

Using Avaya technology and Breeze, E-Call will add real-time text and video and automate calls based on sensors in the car that can initiate a 112 call and include relevant data for emergency responders. Over the coming years, E-Call will be in most new cars and connect immediately to an emergency services desk if a car's air bag is deployed. This next-gen emergency service will provide emergency responders with exact GPS coordinates, while enabling interactions via multiple channels and sources to help save more lives.

At the #Snapathon booth in the Exhibit Hall, Avaya showcased various partners developing innovative applications -- several of which use virtual reality and augmented reality -- with Avaya communication capabilities embedded. For example, Koopid built what it refers to as a "conversational commerce" to help overcome disjointed B2C experiences for customers. Using a mobile messaging app, customers can do scheduling, payments, tracking, calling, transform the experience for consumers and banks.

Throughout the event we heard a variety of customer examples that reinforce the theme that "experience is everything." In a big departure from previous Avaya events I've attended, the presentations and panels were primarily use case-driven, rather than technology-driven. We're starting to see a new Avaya as it evolves from technology-centric to a user experience focus. While I've heard that story from Avaya many times in the past, I really got to experience it this time. It will be interesting to see how much innovation is on display at Avaya's next Engage event in Las Vegas this February. Hopefully Avaya will have a good representation of customers that are truly focused on digitally transforming their businesses while improving the customer experience.

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