Tremendous Changes Continue at Avaya

No company within the enterprise communications space is experiencing more change than Avaya. But then again, big changes were necessary. The company hasn't shown growth for years, and the majority of its R&D focused on legacy technologies. It completely missed the cloud, and tended to under deliver and/or overpromise.

So with new CEO Jim Chirico at the helm and fresh out of bankruptcy, Avaya gave us a glimpse of the "new" company at its Engage customer and partner event in January. But much has changed since then.

Chirico realized that everything had to change, but he couldn't wait to identify the specific actions and people necessary to get them done. As a result, it's been a chaotic time at Big Red. Since January, there has been a steady flow of leadership and staffing changes and a rapid fire of new product announcements -- so many that it's hard to keep up. Here's a partial list of major announcements so far this year:

  • Acquired Spoken
  • Went public, now listed on the NYSE
  • Launched and integrated AI-powered predictive routing with Afiniti
  • Initiated a new master agent program, and revised its Edge channel program
  • Launched hosted contact center services in Asia (aimed at BPOs) and North America
  • Upgraded IP Office Cloud to work within Google Kubernetes
  • Updated Equinox client and is integrating Zang Spaces into it
  • Announced Avaya Mobile Experience, now in trials
  • Released new endpoints, including general desktop, Android-based, and phones designed for hospitality
  • Launched a huddle room solution
  • Previewed a blockchain-powered identity-as-a-service offering
  • Released a new version of its workforce optimization suite

A whole lot of staffing changes have accompanied all this activity, and that's the purpose of this post. While the change has been tremendous at all levels, I'll limit myself to the leadership team.

Breaking Down the Avaya Leadership

Chirico has publicly stated that he believes the right leadership team should include executives from within the current upper management ranks, former employees who have returned to the company, and proven leaders from other companies.

...Those From Within

Three notable examples are:

  • Chirico himself -- Chirico has been with Avaya for 10 years, most recently in the roles of COO and global sales leader. Those experiences provided him in-depth knowledge of Avaya's inner workings. He is oriented toward operations and financials.
  • Nidal Abou-Ltaif, president of Avaya International -- Avaya organizes its sales organization into two large groups, the Americas and everything else. The latter falls under Avaya International, which under Abou-Ltaif's leadership has experienced steady growth, even during Chapter 11. Abou-Ltaif has been with Avaya since 2003.
  • Laurent Philonenko, SVP of innovation -- Prior to taking on this new title, Philonenko had been CTO, a position he'd held since late 2014 and had temporarily expanded to include R&D to backfill a vacancy that opened when Gary Barnett, who had been GM of the Engagement Solutions business unit, left the company last fall. Now that Chris McGugan, recently rehired (see below), is heading R&D, Philonenko is settling into his new innovation role. He is responsible for creating many of Avaya's emerging solutions, such as the Avaya Mobile Experience and AI-powered speech technologies. Philonenko's previous industry experience includes time spent as CEO of Genesys and CTO at Cisco Collaboration.

In other internal executive shifts, Jim Geary has taken on the role of GM, Americas sales and services, and Jerry Glembocki is SVP of operations.

...Those Who Return

The category of re-hired executives includes:

  • Tara Dunning, as the newly named chief revenue officer. She most recently worked at BroadSoft.
  • Chris McGugan, as noted above; he returned to Avaya last April to head up UC and contact center R&D. His return likely tastes sweet. Clashes with Barnett and former CEO Kevin Kennedy culminated in his 2014 departure.
  • Ed Nalbandian, as president of Avaya Services. Ed previously ran services at Avaya, but left soon after the company struck a services partnership with HP (now DXC). It appears Avaya is rebuilding services again as that agreement approaches expiration.
  • Nikos Nikolopoulos, as SVP of corporate strategy and development. He seems primarily focused on business development, including mergers and acquisitions. Nikolopoulos spearheaded the Spoken acquisition.

Also, Greg Pelton returned as VP of collaboration and devices, and David Austin as the CEO's chief of staff.

... Those Who Are New

Finally, the category of new blood includes:

  • Becky Carr, VP of global marketing. Avaya hasn't had a head of marketing since last fall -- a likely explanation of why so few are aware of all the leadership changes and announcements. Chirico shared with analysts that it was a mistake not to fill this position sooner.
  • Dino Di Palma, previously of BroadSoft and Acme Packet, is the newly named president, strategic partners and global accounts. He is chartered with revamping Avaya's relationships with systems integrators, strategic partners, and technology solution providers globally.
  • Pat O'Malley, CFO. O'Malley and Chirico previously worked together at Seagate. Since his October 2017 start, O'Malley has contributed to the exit of Chapter 11, listed AVYA on the NYSE, and recently raised capital via convertible debt.
  • Mercer Rowe, previously of IBM and VMware, is the SVP and GM of Cloud Services. He is developing cross-functional services to support Avaya's emerging cloud businesses.
  • Shefali Shah, SVP, chief administrative officer, and general counsel.

Final Thoughts

Chirico has described the new Avaya as one that is "all about execution," and he has said he's hired "wartime generals." He's leading Avaya through simultaneous transitions and transformations. While Avaya appears to remain committed to its current products, it is concurrently broadening and modernizing its portfolio.

I've focused on only new hires above, but quite a few have departed too as the new leaders reshape their teams. So many have departed that Chirico claims his leadership team is still slimmer than it was last year.

Avaya is a complex story. While its story clearly has aspects of a behemoth stuck in licensed and managed software, smaller initiatives within it have the energy and enthusiasm of startups. IntelligentWire, for example, provides cloud-delivered speech technologies -- a highly innovative, AI-powered sector. It seemed buried as a subsidiary of an acquired company but is now getting focused attention within Avaya's newly formed innovation team.

It's also notable that Avaya is shifting eastward again. The prior CEO moved headquarters from New Jersey to California. No formal change has been made, but many of the new leaders at Avaya are based on the East Coast.

Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.

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