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Avaya's CEO Looks To Bring Unified Communications To The Masses

Avaya CEO Lou D'Ambrosio discusses UC "for the masses" and Avaya's relationship with Microsoft, IBM.

InformationWeek recently interviewed Avaya CEO Lou D'Ambrosio about the evolution of unified communications as integrated voice, video, and data over IP becomes a real possibility for an increasing number of businesses. Avaya, a market leader in IP communications, hopes to help transform IP communications from cost saver to business driver and is embarking this week on a new strategy that aims to bring unified communications to many more companies via less expensive, targeted products.

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InformationWeek: What's the state of unified communications, from Avaya's point of view?

D'Ambrosio: People have been talking about voice, video, and data for the last 20 years. Akin to what we saw with adoption of the PC and the explosion of the Internet, we're now seeing this extraordinary adoption of unified communications. Four years ago, less than 25% of all the new lines shipped were voice-over-IP. In 2008, close to 80% of new lines are voice-over-IP.

UC has moved from essentially cost savings, where people could save money on things like toll charges; to revenue-generating applications like the call center, where you could combine the richness of data with voice; to fundamentally embedding communications into your core business processes and dramatically compressing cycle time. If I think about where our technology is heading and how we've evolved our business as a result of that, 75% of our R&D right now is on software. That gives you a good indication of how UC has evolved.

If you look at the competitive landscape, how that's evolved, it's dramatic as well. At VoiceCon conference several years ago, you would have seen very different players. If you look at who's doing the keynotes this year, it's Avaya, it's Microsoft, it's IBM, and it's Cisco. Of the classic organizations focused on communications, only Avaya is a keynote speaker at VoiceCon because we have categorically been most successful in terms of the transition from voice to this converged voice, data, and video.

InformationWeek: What's the overall theme of what you're announcing at VoiceCon?

D'Ambrosio: The democratization of unified communications. It's getting UC into the hands of the masses. Different companies have different views on that. One of our competitors on the West Coast, when they think about UC, they think about selling high-end videoconferencing for $300,000 to the elite executives in corner offices who get to have mahogany furniture. We want to get the tools of unified communications to the masses. It's about empowering the people, so we're going to announce that we'll offer UC capabilities starting at $100 per person.

InformationWeek: What does that compare with, typically, today?

D'Ambrosio: It depends on how UC's packaged, but several UC offerings could be several hundred to several thousand dollars per person. The way we've been able to get to a low price point is to look at all the use cases we could have for teleworkers, for the home agent, for mobile workers, and basically codify those offers, package them, replicate them, and then be able to offer them to the masses.

Our $100 offering is enabling you, in your home office or when you're on the road, to get the same access to voice, connectivity, and messaging as in your office. If you wanted to add video, you could add videoconferencing for $60 per person.

If you buy two of these videoconferencing solutions that cost $300,000, you may be able to get 20 to 30 people using the system. You could enable 4,000 people on our solution for the same price. It's a different perspective in terms of how it's being used.

We're also looking at several other announcements to make UC easier for the user. The reason we're doing this is because, we are in, make no mistake about it, a difficult economic situation. In these times, there are a lot of different theories about what companies need to do. But there's absolutely one truism, and that's to obsessively focus on the customer. Our view, and it's something we strongly hold as an organization, is the best way to do that is to mobilize the entire work force to focus on the customer. Unified communications arms workers with the tools to reach the right customers, to understand who's calling and why. It's not just the role of people in call centers, of salespeople, but it's the role of all workers.

InformationWeek: Avaya has always been strong in the call center; is talking about democratization part of a renewed effort to expand beyond those borders?

D'Ambrosio: Sure. A point of clarity, if you look at the core IP telephony, UC solutions, the layer below the call center, based on all the market research data you would see we're essentially either No. 1 or tied for No. 1. In the call center, we're categorically No. 1 by a large amount versus the second player. In IP telephony, overall VoIP, we're either No. 1 or tied for No. 1, depending on which market research report you use.

What's interesting that the full workforce could benefit from the tools call center agents use in terms of knowing who's calling, why they're calling, propensity to buy ... not just these 9 million call center agents, not just these 100 million enterprise workers who work with customers, but 400 million enterprise workers could be armed with the data to serve their customers.

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