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Entering Avaya's New Endpoints Era

Last week, I had the chance to receive an update from the new Avaya communications endpoints team -- knowledgeable executives with extensive technological backgrounds in business products and services. My goal was to understand how last year's events (entering Chapter 11 and exiting 11 months later) impacted the company's future plans for communications endpoints and their role within the "New Avaya" portfolio.

I was glad to hear that the company is fully committed to go on the offense when it comes to business communications endpoints strategies, with clear objectives in mind that certainly resonate with the evolving digital workplace.

What follows is a detailed interview with the brand-new Avaya endpoints team, providing insightful perspectives on where the company is headed.

I spoke with Ard Verboon, who now has overall responsibility for Avaya's Endpoints business. Verboon is based in Singapore with past experience at Alcatel and Philips Electronics, and in his previous role at Avaya he crafted competitive, innovative vendor ecosystems to help turn Avaya's Supply Chain into a competitive advantage.

Also on the team is Greg Pelton, who recently rejoined Avaya from Polycom to drive Avaya's overall Technology Strategy and who has been part of many industry transitions over the years; Bob Fizzard, who leads Avaya's UC Devices Product Management teams and has over 25 years of industry experience; and Steve Brock, who directs Avaya's Desktop Experience Marketing team, having held a similar position at Nortel where he doubled the device business in just a few years.


Taking into account Avaya's transition within this last year (entering and successfully exiting chapter 11 in eleven exact months), what have been the major restructuring changes in Avaya's endpoints team?

We have built a powerful team to support our UC devices mission, combining a select group of innovators and industry veterans that have deep understanding of the market.

Avaya has always been passionate about providing the industry's best desktop and conferencing experiences and we continued to innovate and develop new solutions during last year's restructuring. You can see the results of this innovation with our new line of Essential Experience desktop phones, the expansion of our Vantage portfolio and the many other announcements planned for our annual Avaya Engage customer event [taking place this week in New Orleans].

UC devices are a critical part of Avaya's portfolio, because no matter which UC service you use, the end-user experience is conveyed through a device and the application running on it. This is where Avaya really impacts people's lives, by both delivering a great user experience and increasing our customer's productivity.

Avaya devices keep the business world running every day -- saving lives in over 10,000 hospitals, driving worldwide commerce by processing billions of transactions every day, enabling critical missions -- including classified government operations around the globe, and moving businesses into the future.

So with great leadership, and a mandate to support Avaya's cloud ambitions with world-class UC devices, we are working like never before to inject new technology and capabilities into our portfolio. You will see us introduce some amazing new experiences this year!

Avaya has always been one of the leading business endpoint vendors in the world. For this new Avaya, what are the main focal points or objectives of the endpoints team and how is the company planning to achieve them?

We have a tremendous obligation that comes from having sold over 130 million lines. Our devices are known for quality, reliability, and innovation.

Our customers are asking us for more flexibility and more options, and this is exactly what we are working to provide them. They want the Avaya premium desktop experience, whether in a large enterprise or a small business, whether service is coming from corporate IT or the cloud, whether they are in headquarters or working at home.

Being more flexible also means enabling our devices to work with a wide range of service providers, and it means enabling a wider range of services to be available from them.

'Open to give you options' is the tagline we are using for our UC devices portfolio at Avaya Engage. We believe the future is open, and customers understand their own businesses best, and we are here to help them be more successful, whenever they want it, wherever they want it, and however they want it....

How do you see the competitive landscape of the business endpoints market evolving? What elements will be key for success?

Having an effective, collaborative, high-quality vendor ecosystem is of extreme importance. We will leverage the vendor network we have developed over the last few years to bring partnered innovation to our customers.

We are obsessed about user experience. Many companies have introduced Android-based phones into the market and just assumed that customers would use them. However, an Android device is pretty much a blank slate, and it can be filled with good and bad and conflicting applications. This can result in frustrated users and wasted investment.

Avaya chose to leverage the power of Android, but create an integrated and consistent user experience based on the Avaya Equinox UC experience. We believe we have found the right balance between the "wild west" of a generic Android device and the highly constrained environment of traditional priority phones. We are able to leverage Android to develop an ecosystem where we can quickly write new applications and enable our partners do the same.

What can we expect from Avaya in terms of changes in the endpoints portfolio, for both hard endpoints and software communications and collaboration interfaces?

We have four priorities as we continue to bring the best desktop and conferencing experiences to Avaya customers.

Our first priority is to transition from horizontal to vertical focus and to expand into targeted verticals, such as hospitality, with tailored experiences. These experiences will be enabled by both hardware and custom software applications. You will see many announcements related to this in 2018.

Secondly, we plan to enable new desktop and conferencing experiences. We are committed to providing our customers with flexibility and more options. We are completely refreshing our Essential Experience portfolio, announcing three new devices at Avaya Engage that modernize the professional desktop.

Our Vantage portfolio is also an excellent example of this. It provides modularity in terms of having a handset or headset, and the camera is optional. It is based on Android, and we have built an ecosystem of companies developing applications for these devices.

Let's look at an example of these two priorities. For many of our 5-star hotel customers, the phone is a cost center. With the Vantage portfolio and custom applications we are now turning the phone into a profit center – driving more revenue from in- room dining orders, spa reservations, excursions, etc. One of our partners has developed a voice-driven application for Vantage, called Houdini, that can voice-control a hotel guest's alarm clock and be the IoT control-point to close curtains, change the room temperature, etc. Together with our partners, we are defining the phone of the future.

We are also transforming the conferencing experience. At Avaya Engage, we will announce a revolutionary new collaboration device with maximum quality, maximum interoperability, and maximum flexibility. A key use case for this device is the huddle room. It has a small form factor and is also Android-based. It runs Avaya Equinox but also runs just about every other communication app you can find in the Android library. It is a maximally interoperable product.

Our third priority is extending the reach of the Avaya desktop experience into new markets. Customers are asking us to bring Avaya's unique technology into the Open SIP market, and we are committed to becoming a preferred vendor in this space. This is not a big step for us. Avaya's history is one of supporting and driving standards, and our entire UC and CC solution is based on SIP today.

We are also extending the reach of the Vantage portfolio beyond the enterprise into the midmarket space with newly announced IP Office support.

Our fourth and final priority is a focus on ease of ownership -- making it simpler and more cost-effective for customers to buy and use Avaya devices. We will be introducing new Opex consumption models, and to simplify device deployment, we are announcing two new services at Avaya Engage:

  • Avaya Device Enrollment Services dramatically simplify device provisioning, reducing device activation to only two steps.
  • Avaya Endpoint Management Services simplify and increase control of software, configuration changes, applications, inventory, and device troubleshooting and monitoring.

These services are designed to provide our customers with more scalability, ease of ownership, and workflow automation.

We, at Frost & Sullivan, see several evolving trends impacting the endpoints space, including analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), mixed/virtual realities, the growth of Gen Y workers, wearable technologies, etc. How is Avaya reacting to these evolving forces that could shape the space?

There are a lot of interesting trends impacting the UC and CC markets right now. These are being driven by a combination of three forces: ubiquitous mobility, very inexpensive computing technology, and cloud services. Our industry and our users sit right at the intersection of these three forces. Cloud has enabled tremendous advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, both in terms of capabilities and cost. Mobility has enabled any device to reach these services, in real time. Low-cost computing means that your home, your car, your clothes, your watch can all participate in these services.

A great place to look at the confluence is with contact centers. Historically, they have had very complex sets of rules that, when combined with well trained staff, resulted in making good decisions about serving customers. Repeatable scenarios were then automated to reduce cost and increase scale. While this drove efficiency, it did not always drive better customer service, because sometimes the automated scenario was not an exact match for the customer. This is where we can really leverage AI. Rather than using rules to determine action, AI creates more nuance and better understanding of intent. The cloud allows more sophisticated data sets and heuristics that fine-tune AI over time, to support machine learning. Mobile clients can now deliver much more specialized and customized experiences for the customer.

We are exploring all of these trends and actively working to incorporate them into our solutions. While we may not see large-scale virtual reality interactions soon, augmented reality could be ideal for customer service and remote technician support. One important aspect that wasn't listed is security. With all of this important data being moved around to deliver great new services, it is important to keep it all secure. We see Blockchain technology as a real asset that can help provide both security and traceability of customer data.

What lessons, in general, have you learned from Avaya's transition that could be applied to your endpoints business?

This experience has only reinforced how lucky we are to have such great customers. Avaya customers are very loyal and have encouraged us and continued to invest in our products and services. This is also the case with our strategic vendors. We enjoy a very special relationship with our customers and partners, and we are working hard to honor that trust.

The other lesson is Avaya continues to have an important role to play during industry transitions. Our history and expertise are unmatched in this industry, and customers rely on Avaya to help make the right technology and operational decisions for their customers and employees. One key decision is the device that sits on the desktop, in the meeting room and the call center. The quality, reliability and user experience offered by these devices could make the difference between productivity and frustration, or between profit and loss. We have shipped well over 130 million devices to date and no one else even comes close to those numbers. We are working with urgency and innovating to keep that lead.

If you were to remind businesses why they should go with Avaya hardware and software communications and collaboration endpoints, what will be your main differentiators?

The UC experience begins and ends with the devices and applications that employees and customers use on a daily basis.

Avaya stands for quality, reliability, scalability and innovation. We have built trust with each of our customers and partners over the years that we will provide them with the best possible experience, and will deliver technological advancements to keep them ahead of their competitors and to accelerate their business goals. Customers know when they buy an Avaya UC device they are getting the Avaya desktop experience that they have enjoyed for many years. They know that we will ensure they are satisfied today and for many years in the future. They know we will continue innovating and integrating new capabilities. An Avaya endpoint is no longer just a phone; it is a solid, open, flexible platform on which you can build your future.

Hear more from Avaya during an Industry Vision Address at Enterprise Connect 2018, March 12 to 15, in Orlando, Fla. Register now using the code NOJITTER to save an additional $200 off the Early Bird Pricing or get a free Expo Plus pass.

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