Okay, I'm sorry, that's not exactly the staying out all night dancing variety of fun. But taking a closer look at the social, multimedia experience Avaya is bringing to enterprise telephony was perfect "geek fun," I told my friend.
I had been impressed by Avaya's exploration of the social dimension of unified communication since seeing the demonstrations of the Avaya Flare Experience at UBM's Enterprise Connect Conference in March. Flare is a drag-and-drop, touch-screen user interface you use to set up calls, conference calls, videoconferences, and instant messaging exchanges by shuffling through a deck of on-screen contact cards. Each person is represented by a profile picture and presence indicators, which show who is online and available. You can add your Facebook contacts to the system, in addition to those pulled from the corporate directory.
The idea is to use a directory of social profile pictures to quickly assemble the group of people you want to talk with, without fussing with conference call codes of videoconferencing complexities. "It means not having to spend the first minutes of every hour gathering up the right people, the right documents, and the right conference bridge to have everyone on the call," said Brett Shockley, senior vice president of corporate development and strategy at Avaya.
Flare is branded an "experience" because even though its first incarnation was a tablet-sized desktop device. The value of it is in the software that can also be used on desktop computers and other devices. They showed me an iPad version, which is currently available on the App Store as a beta, with a final release due in early 2012. Flare for Windows will also be coming in 2012.
The hardware version of the Flare is based on the Android operating system for tablet computers, although unlike the Cisco Cius, it's not really meant to compete in the tablet computer market. This is a more tethered device, meant to fit into a docking station on an executive's desktop, with the option to undock it and carry it around the room--but not around the building. The iPad version, on the other hand, is meant to provide the Flare experience for the executive on the go more than it is to be used at the desktop.
In other words, Avaya's strategy for mobility within the enterprise is to take advantage of the consumer gadgets executives are already bringing to work. My visit to the executive briefing center followed from a conversation with Shockley about the consumerization of IT. "As we look at all these consumer trends, that creates opportunity for us. Enterprises are looking to us to help them figure out how to take advantage of these things and make sure they're enterprise-class," he said.
With its one-X software for smart phones, Avaya also allows you to make your mobile phone act as an extension of the corporate network. That means you can transfer a call from your desk to your mobile phone as you're running out the door, or take a call on your mobile while on your way into the office and transfer it to your desk when you get there.
The Flare desktop device, which my briefing center guide Lloyd Halvorsen dubbed "the non-tablet tablet," is intended as a high-end device for executives. "These are selling reasonably," he said, given that they're priced at about $2,000. You can use the Flare desktop video device as a self-contained conferencing appliance, or use it to set up a call, then pick up the handset for your desk phone on the same extension, and perhaps transfer the video to a larger screen.
The Avaya Aura network architecture is supposed to ensure interoperability between a whole family of phone and video devices, united by Avaya's embrace of SIP, the Session Initiation Protocol for setting up voice or video calls over IP networks. The technician in charge of showing off all the possible combinations wore himself out running around the demo room, setting up video calls from desktop clients to dedicated videoconferencing terminals, and transferring calls from one device to another, in a variety of scenarios. Frankly, my notes and my memory fail me on the details, but it was impressive. One of the variations, from a product that has yet to be released, was the ability to add a participant from outside the company by simply sending an email link to a page containing a Flash-based video conferencing client.
Avaya has the vision for social, seamless collaboration across a variety of devices, and the Flare desktop video device is a very sexy demonstration of that vision. I'll be watching for the arrival of Flare for iPad and Flare for Windows in 2012 to see how far it will spread beyond the executive suite.