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Avaya: Rising from its Ashes

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Illustration of a phoenix rising
Image: funstarts33 - stock.adobe.com
The mythical phoenix rises from its ashes, draws strength from its predecessor, and generally symbolizes renewal. It’s only fitting that Avaya selected Phoenix as the location for its annual North American customer and partner event, Avaya Engage, as the company is totally different and stronger than it was when it emerged from bankruptcy in October 2017 under the leadership of CEO Jim Chirico.
 
Avaya experienced significant leadership changes over the past few years. CEO Chirico has stated that company needs have dramatically changed during this period. This Engage will be the first one for many of its senior leaders, including: EVP and Chief Product Officer Anthony Bartolo, SVP Strategy Hardy Myers, VP Cloud Solutions Susy Liem, VP Channels Jon Brinton, and CMO Simon Harrison. Bartolo and Harrison just started at Avaya this year.
 
Bartolo is returning to Avaya after several years at Tata Communications . During that period, Tata emerged as a significant UC enabler, particularly within the Microsoft ecosystem. It will be up to Bartolo to pull together Avaya’s broad portfolio. The company is known for its UC and contact center solutions, but its catalog also includes team messaging, meetings technologies, AI solutions, workforce engagement management tools, hardware, and CPaaS.
 
Harrison is well known in the industry from his previous role as a Gartner analyst who focused on UC and contact centers. At Gartner, Harrison was in a unique position to survey the landscape, market trends, and emerging customer requirements. His decision to join Avaya represents a significant endorsement. Ironically, many of us met Harrison for the first time at Engage 2018.
 
These two leaders are so new that they won’t likely have any/many accomplishments to share. That was the case last year, when Frank Ciccone, SVP of U.S. and Canadian sales, joined Avaya from Verizon just weeks before Engage 2019. Since then, Ciccone has implemented numerous organizational and programmatic changes. I expect he will be driving a number of the initiatives announced next week.
 
I am unaware of what Avaya may be announcing at Engage, but here are a few guesses.
 
Avaya Cloud Office
Having announced the Avaya Cloud Office (ACO) by RingCentral solution and partnership in October with an expected launch in early 2020, I expect Avaya will follow through and launch ACO at Engage. At the time of the announcement, there were a lot of unknowns on features, pricing, channel programs, and migration details. Engage seems like the logical time and place to provide some of those answers.
 
ACO details will likely dominate Engage. ACO represents a huge opportunity for Avaya and RingCentral, as well as their customers and partners. The partnership has been well received by industry watchers. For example, Rod Hall at Goldman Sachs recently wrote, “we believe the economics of the announced RingCentral deal are likely to drive Avaya’s revenue and profitability above consensus expectations… In our central case, we estimate that ACO conversions could add ~$28m in revenue to Avaya in the first full year of its availability.”
 
ACO is primarily targeted at the customers of Avaya IP Office. Avaya recently announced it was ending the sale of its Powered By Avaya IP Office hosted solution. But, IP Office remains a viable premises-based solution, so I expect Avaya will announce some IP Office enhancements as well.
 
General Cloudiness
Avaya has been criticized for years for being late to the cloud. It’s been more of a perception issue than customer concern as many larger enterprises don’t appear anxious to switch to public cloud services. Regardless, the writing is on the wall and Avaya has been adding OpEx consumption options.
 
Alongside ACO are new subscription licensing models, new desktop rental models (device as a service), Avaya Spaces for meetings and chat, a new CCaaS option announced last fall, and most importantly its ReadyNow OneCloud program. ReadyNow features preconfigured, per-seat UCaaS and CCaaS consumption bundles that simplify, accelerate, and reduce risk associated with migrations from premises-based deployments.
 
I expect we will hear about more bundles and/or programs related to ReadyNow. One potential is with Verint, which provides actionable intelligence for customer engagements; Avaya expanded its partnership (and catalog) with Verint last year. I also expect we will get an update on the new public cloud CCaaS, Avaya IX-CC, announced overseas last fall. This is an Azure-based public cloud offer that, at the time, was expected to be available in H1 2020 with voice capabilities, followed by omnichannel features later in the year.
 
Meetings
Meetings have become a core component of enterprise communications. I expect we will see and hear a lot about Avaya Spaces, the meetings and team chat service initially launched as Zang Spaces. Zang was a subsidiary that was recently reabsorbed, quite literally representing how meetings and chat are moving closer toward core solutions.
 
Avaya was the first major provider to launch a low-cost, Android-powered room solution (the CU360) — a category Microsoft has since coined “collaboration bars.” These all-in-one video room appliances are now available from several vendors. I expect Avaya will announce auto-tracking and other room system enhancements.
 
In addition to meetings, Avaya launched last fall a clever front-end application called IX Onespace. This front-end web application consolidates many services into a single pane. It works with Avaya Spaces as well as external applications such as Slack and Microsoft Teams , email, and calendars. It was launched overseas, and I expect that it will get some attention at Engage.
 
AI
Like most of the contact center industry, Avaya announced a partnership with Google regarding its new AI for contact center solution. Google took a bit longer with this than many of us expected, but did recently announce the tools are generally available. To my knowledge, no contact center vendor has yet showcased a Google Contact Center AI (CCAI) customer. I’ve heard from Google that one of the larger pilots has an Avaya deployment. Hopefully, Avaya will have an implementation to showcase at Engage.
 
In addition to Google CCAI, Avaya has several other AI tricks up its sleeve, including a partnership with Nuance. We featured Nuance in the Enterprise Connect Innovation Showcase in 2018 for its biometric speech capabilities. There’s also the Avaya DevConnect Marketplace, and its cousin AIConnect, that provide integrated third-party solutions such as Afiniti, Cogito, and Verint. Avaya also has a few of its own AI solutions, such as conversational intelligence, which started as Intelligent Wire and came to Avaya via the acquisition of Spoken Communications.
 
These are interesting times for enterprise communications. Historically, the UC and contact center vendors have been in a perpetual game of leap frog, imitating each other with similar claims (such as omnichannel, mobile clients, chatbots, work from anywhere, etc.). Today, we are seeing the vendors offer more divergent visions of the future. This means they have to educate and evangelize their visions to customers and partners. For example, there’s legitimate confusion over questions such as: Should UC and contact center come from the same vendor? How can we secure and leverage APIs ? What do we build and what do we buy? What services make sense from the same provider? What is the right deployment model? And, is (like-branded) hardware necessary?
 
There’s a lot of moving parts as the apps, tools, and modalities of enterprise communications evolve . Avaya has to balance tech transitions across a portfolio in ways that accommodate channel partners and its global installed base. ACO will be a big test, and I’m anxious to see the program’s details. It seems every UCaaS provider intends to offer Avaya customers a compelling path to the cloud.
 
This year, Engage won’t have many industry analysts in attendance as the company opted to do a separate event for analysts in the spring. This separation gives executives more time at Engage to focus and interact with customers and partners. Engage usually features keynotes, deep dives, demos, and an exhibition hall.
 
Avaya is in a strong position. For the first time in its history it has a viable response to the cloud question. It also has a rapidly expanding and evolving portfolio, new leadership, strong partnerships, and impressively sophisticated customers. It has never been in a better position to enable enterprise customers to customize, extend, and control their communications.
 
Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.

Watch for Avaya at Enterprise Connect 2020, as well! Check out the program here, the Exhibit Hall here, and register now using the code NOJITTER to save $200 off the Advance Rate, expiring Thursday, Jan. 31.