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Avaya Steps Up its Platform Game

This week at Enterprise Connect, Avaya announced a number of products that will help shift the company from being a vendor of products to a platform vendor. In the No Jitter post covering yesterday's opening keynote, associate editor Michelle Burbick quoted Rowan Trollope, Cisco's senior vice president and general manager of the IoT and Collaboration Technology Group, as saying, "UC feels like a thing of the past." While I'm not quite ready to proclaim the death of UC, I do believe a fundamental shift is underway.

It's my firm belief that users do not want more UC applications. Everyone has enough of them, and switching between business and UC applications is frustrating on a desktop but completely untenable on a mobile device. UC needs to evolve into a platform that enables companies to drop UC functions into the applications we already use. Picture a retail application in which I could click to call, message, or video directly from the application instead of having to leave the application, go to a dialer, initiate a call... and then go back to the application when the call is done.

Avaya has been one of the leaders in this transition for years. The company started its DevConnect program over a decade ago, and has been pushing the concept of UC-enabled applications ever since. Avaya has evolved its product significantly since then, turning what had come to be called the Engagement Development Platform (EDP) into a rich, full-featured development environment that software vendors can use to quickly build UC-enabled applications.

EDP is built on the concept of "Snap ins," which are pre-built modules that can be "snapped" into an application. As part of this week's announcements, we've learned that Avaya has rebranded EDP as Breeze and has opened an online marketplace, called Snapp Store, to distribute the apps (for more details, read Monday's No Jitter post on that news).

During this morning's keynote, Gary Barnett, SVP and GM of Avaya Engagement Solutions, announced the company was taking the concept of Breeze to the clouds with the unveiling of Zang, a wholly-owned subsidiary that offers cloud development tools, similar to Twilio, Cisco Tropo, Nexmo, and Plivo.

In my year-end wrap-up blog, I pointed out that 2015 was the year that communications as a platform (CPaaS) came alive. Avaya is a late entrant into this market, but the industry is still in its infancy so by no means has it missed its opportunity. More and more organizations are adopting a mobile-first application development model, which in turn will create a rising tide that should lift Avaya and most of its CPaaS competitors.

Avaya is obviously not the first cPaaS provider, but the company did a nice job of creating a differentiated platform. All the other players in CPaaS are pure-plays and offer a rich set of REST and XML APIs via the cloud to build communications-enabled apps. Zang does this too, and does a good job of it.

However, Zang is more than just a cloud platform. It also includes a number of pre-built communications applications, such as an identity and licensing engine, IVR and communications app suite, video and audio meetings, and in the second half of the year, Zang will release its own workstream communications and collaboration (WCC) solution, called "Zang Spaces," built on the CPaaS solution.

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Zang Spaces

The fact that Avaya chose to make Zang the focal point of its Enterprise Connect announcements and not Spaces indicates the company realizes the long-term potential of the CPaaS market. WCC is the cool, sexy thing now, and it would have been easy to get sucked into that and lead with Spaces. However, Zang Spaces is merely one example of an application that can be built on Zang, so the real news is the developer platform and not the application itself. Also, Zang connects many popular collaboration applications like Google Hangouts with business solutions like SAP and Salesforce.com.

Another differentiator is that Zang offers what the company is calling "APIs as a service" that gives customers cloud access to Snap-ins, Breeze, engagement designer and cloud/premises integration. Lastly, Zang can be set up in a hybrid mode where a Zang SDK and developer platform sit behind the corporate firewall. This is ideal for organizations that want to leverage the flexibility and agility of CPaaS but are either heavily regulated or have security concerns.

Although Avaya was one of the pioneers in the concept of UC shifting from product to platform, the company had fallen behind as the market had evolved into a cloud-first model. Zang not only enables Avaya to take advantage of this shift, but also gives the company a unique position for customers that want to utilize a hybrid deployment.

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