Avaya's Brett Shockley: Focus on User Experience
The company's Enterprise Connect keynoter says Avaya is putting the pieces together to make users more efficient.
Certain companies have an immediate association with a place. Think Microsoft, and you think Seattle/Redmond. Coca-Cola means Atlanta. When you think of Avaya, you naturally think of New Jersey, the land of Avaya’s ancestors Lucent, AT&T, Bell Labs. But when I got on the phone this week with Brett Shockley of Avaya, to preview Brett's Enterprise Connect keynote this week, he was calling from Santa Clara, CA, which he informed me was his home base, and is in fact the location for many of the company's top officers, including CEO Kevin Kennedy. Avaya's West Coast HQ in Santa Clara is a center of gravity standing alongside Basking Ridge, NJ, and Denver, Brett said. "We’ve become a bi-coastal company," he told me.
The transition is emblematic of Avaya's evolution from Bell-head Central, Enterprise Division, to a next-gen communications company building a portfolio to go up against the likes of Cisco and Microsoft. The most recent step in that transition came last week, when Avaya agreed to acquire Israeli video company Radvision for $230 million. But the process has been in the works for the last couple of years, with the unconventional Flare touch-screen interface, the emphasis on SIP and Session Management as a new phase in call control, and the decision to retain Nortel's data networking product lines and continue to pursue datacenter architectures. Some of these moves have been more successful than others, but Avaya increasingly talks like a company that isn't resting on its legacy status.
As new initiatives like Flare demonstrate, Avaya is thinking much more about the "user experience" these days—indeed that's a phrase Brett Shockley tossed off several times when I asked him for a sneak preview of his Tuesday Enterprise Connect keynote. In the past, he said, "We've delivered a lot of different products, but we haven't really delivered on the promise of that fully integrated user experience." To accomplish this, Avaya's been spending a lot of time doing focus groups, interviewing customers and users to understand how they use the technology. In previous generations of communications technology, "You'll find hundreds and hundreds of features, and many times you'll be hard pressed to understand how customers are using combinations of those features" to do their work more effectively, Brett said.
But the user experience isn't just about the user interface. A good example of how the communications system can provide an enhanced user experience is when it comes to presence, according to Shockley. He says systems need to go beyond the presence capabilities they have today, which lack context. "It's great to know somebody's touched their keyboard in the last five minutes, but I think we can do a lot better than that" in ascertaining and publishing a user's real presence status.
Turning specifically to the Radvision deal, Avaya is "very excited" to add Radvision's video capabilities to its portfolio, Shockley said, citing their "great engineering and great technology." He praised Radvision's commitment to interoperability and noted that their full line of technology covers the gamut from older H.323 systems to more current SIP.
I tried to draw Brett out on the recent controversy over Cisco's appeal of the Microsoft-Skype deal in Europe, asking: Cisco obviously feels they will be harmed if Microsoft doesn't open up the Skype protocols; does Avaya believe it also will suffer harm from such lack of openness? He opted not to take the bait, declining to comment. But at a minimum the acquisition had to have been a bitter pill for Avaya--the vendor benefitted from a close relationship with Skype when both were owned by Silver Lake Partners private equity firm—which sold Skype to Microsoft last year for more than $8 billion. In fact, at last year's Enterprise Connect, Skype had a significant presence in Avaya's booth.
Finally, I asked Brett to give our Enterprise Connect audience a sense of how they should be preparing for the next phase of the industry—and their own careers. If you're an IT person who sees BYOD/mobile on the horizon, along with cloud services, increasing use of video, and a still-uncertain path to Unified Communications—how do you adapt?
Brett started out by emphasizing the growth opportunities of the technology churn, proclaiming that, "It's a great time for those people to expand their horizons and expand their career."
"The biggest opportunity is to drive toward relevance toward the line of business, and drive toward relevance from a financial return perspective," he continued. The way you get to that point, according to Shockley, is by taking your experience and using it to think about technology from the user's perspective, how you can make them more productive and effective.
This isn't an altogether unprecedented process, Brett noted. "We do it in the contact center every day." We analyze how agents handle customer interactions, try to figure out how to shave off 10 seconds a call, "and companies get tremendous returns on that." Applying this way of thinking to the rest of the enterprise users won't be as easy as the contact center, because not every interaction follows the same or similar patterns, as is generally the case in the contact center. But if you can find time savings and make users more effective, you can have a very profound impact on enterprises, he said.
Brett Shockley's keynote will take place next Tuesday, March 27, 11:15 AM. If you can't make it to Orlando for the show, you can watch the live-stream of the keynote here on No Jitter.