Avaya looking to catch unified communications wave in 2009

Going private, streamlining and sticking to a tight plan could give it an edge through tough times.

Cisco is the toughest competitor. Its share of the UC market measured by sales has been growing among enterprise customers, while Avaya is more stagnant. Cisco ships more VoIP lines, but has an installed base that pales in comparison to Avaya's, Weckel says. Cisco is doing a good job shifting from its proprietary protocols to open ones, and from a hardware focus to software in its VoIP offerings. "Will Avaya be there in five to seven years? The answer is yes. You can't say that for all the competition," he says.

That is something Giancarlo agrees with. "There will be fewer vendors, without a doubt, in this industry several years from now than there are today," he says.

Notably, Nortel is reported to have hired counsel to advise on whether bankruptcy is in its best interest. Other vendors -- Weckel would not specify which -- will suffer lower stock prices and perhaps be absorbed through mergers.

Avaya's Giancarlo speaks optimistically, however. "While the next several years are going to be very difficult for everyone, including high tech, I've been through nuclear winter -- it was 2000 and 2001 -- and I don't believe that this will be quite as difficult a time for high tech as that was," he said, addressing a UC conference earlier this year.

On D'Ambrosio's watch, Avaya began focusing more on software and the potential for applications to make use of underlying UC infrastructure. To that end, the company established DevConnect, an application-developer community open to customers as well as independent software vendors.

"I think the DevConnect program is key to the business to help make that transition to software by adding a lot of [independent software vendor] partners," Kerravala says. "They'll be able to take advantage of the software platform they've created."

Microsoft, however, with its software predominance, stable of ISVs and a UC platform of its own, poses a significant challenge, Kerravala says. "Microsoft's product isn't mature enough that it's mattered up until now," he says. "Ultimately Avaya has to understand that Microsoft's going to be there, and how do you leverage that fact?"

Microsoft already collaborates with Avaya on UC integration, but also with Avaya's competitors, so there is no distinct advantage there, Kerravala says.

The answer, Kerravala says, is to find a way to complement Microsoft infrastructure. "Avaya's got to find a way to be almost like Citrix Systems is to Microsoft," he says. "Citrix, you could argue, competes with Microsoft, but ultimately they sit on the Microsoft infrastructure and make it better. They add value."

"Can Avaya find a way to let Microsoft do what Microsoft does, and then sit on top of the Microsoft infrastructure and add functionality to it?" Kerravala asks.

A hint about what Avaya might do comes from Giancarlo. UC vendors as a whole have failed to follow the ease-of-use and content-rich model adopted by cell phone makers, he says. UC software needs to include standard applications, such as Rolodexes and address books that get used every day.

Also, UC client software must be portable to whatever device the customer wants to use, including cell phones, handhelds, laptops, desktops and kiosks "so that as we update and improve the endpoint software with new features and capabilities, that improvement is able to appear everywhere our customers may have employed a new endpoint or a new system," Giancarlo says.

UC software must be open, so it can be readily integrated into enterprise applications, Giancarlo says. "As an industry we've set an extraordinarily low bar so there's a great opportunity to improve upon that," he says.

That fits with Kerravala's take on where UC is headed. "To me that's the software-ization of UC, and being able to build a partner ecosystem around it," he says. "You're looking at Avaya emerging as a much different company."

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