A Retrospective on the Avaya Dealer Conference, Kennedy’s “Fit for Purpose”, and the New Avaya

by Jeff Wiener on October 22, 2010

I have just spent the last three days living and breathing nothing but Avaya at the North and Latin America conference in Las Vegas, an event attended by over 1,500 Avaya employees, business partners, and DevConnect partners. The conference itself was held at the famous MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, a complex so massive that it took me 15 minutes to walk from my hotel room to the conference centre and another 5 minutes to the eating area. As with most Vegas hotels, the MGM Grand was a living and vibrant city unto itself, complete with the ubiquitous quickie wedding chapel, food courts, and, of course, ample opportunities for gambling.

For me the conference was an invaluable resource, not only for the telecom information it delivered, but even more so for the glimpse it provided into what has happened with Avaya since the Nortel acquisition and, more importantly, where Avaya is headed in the future.

With much of the heavy lifting involved with the acquisition of Nortel now complete and the once seemingly insurmountable task of integrating Nortel into Avaya’s business model now a distant memory, Avaya President and CEO Kevin Kennedy let us know in no uncertain terms that Avaya has it sights clearly set on the future, with business plans in place for 2011, 2012 and beyond.

But before I continue, some background on us: Our company, Digitcom, has been an Avaya dealer for almost six (6) years now. In my early years as a business partner there was a great deal of discussion about channel conflict between the direct Avaya sales force and the Avaya dealer channel. I’m guessing here, but I would estimate that Avaya did about 50% of their business with their direct sales team. 

Now fast forward to January 2009, with Kevin Kennedy at the helm making some hard to believe promises. He pledged that within three (3) years 80% of Avaya’s business would be through the channel, and although it was a little hard to swallow, it looks like he has delivered on that promise in a what strikes me as a record amount of time. All that has led to several big accomplishments for Avaya: $5.4 billion in sales, number one (1) in most business categories, five (5) major product releases, a major acquisition, and a healthy cash balance well over $500 million.

But all that is the past, Kennedy is clearly looking to the future. So if you thought Avaya has come along way, then no doubt you’ll be surprised to learn that this next year may see as much change as the last several years combined! Avaya is going through a business paradigm shift where the lines between business and personal communication are becoming increasingly blurred. It’s no longer only about voice; the new Avaya is about business collaboration and about solving the business transformation process. But what does this all mean? 

Kennedy pointed to the new Avaya Flare as a transformational business device connecting voice, video, and business collaboration all in one simple-to-use hub. But it’s not just about Flare, Kennedy made clear, as it is merely one medium in the business communication market. The new business communications market is about bridging all communications, providing solutions to all of a business’s communication needs, and Avaya is going to lead the way.

To explain Avaya’s vision for the future Kennedy coined the phrase, “Fit for Purpose,” describing the company’s desire to create a communications portfolio consisting of not only end points, but the contact centre, applications, and business processes as well. All of these things, the technology, the process, and all the development, will be constructed around delivering unsurpassed communications services and support, designed and creating for the purpose of bridging communications.

Kennedy ended his talk by saying that forty (40) years of voice is the door to the past, video and business collaboration is the wave of the future. But lets be honest, Kennedy was preaching to the choir, to those already converted to his vision of Avaya’s communications future.

But even though his words were like soft sweet music to my ears, as an Avaya dealer specializing in the small medium business market selling Avaya’s IP Office product, it left me wondering how the specifics of what he was talking about would translate into that product segment. How does “Fit for Purpose” translate in the SMB channel?

As with all catch phrases and taglines, Kennedy’s speech was quite vague in several areas regarding specifics, leaving several questions unanswered. There’s no question that the Flare concept is where Avaya is going, but how does that help me better understand the specifics of what will happen with Avaya’s SMB product line?  Where is the Avaya IP Office headed? While I’m sure it is somehow part of Kennedy’s “Fit for Purpose” motto, with the IP Office Release 7 already well under way and due out March 2011, I suspect we will have to wait for Avaya IP Office Release 8 for more details.

In the meantime, Joel Hackney, SVP Global Sales and Marketing, laid out what Avaya has done over the last year to lay the framework for moving forward from a sales to a channel perspective. He noted that the channel has always been an extension of sales, an invaluable part of the Avaya team. Further, he mentioned not only a marked investment in continued training, but also a renewed investment in the channel as well, and, as always, Hackney reiterated Avaya’s strong commitment to the best in class Avaya SE Telecom community.

While I would venture to say that having such an in depth and informative meeting in Las Vegas was a cruel and unusual form of punishment–as different meetings at various venues left me with no time to enjoy the Vegas experience–I found the entire experience to be extremely worthwhile, full of useful information about Avaya, topped off with Digitcom walking away with the Avaya SME Canada dealer of the Year award for 2010. You can watch the video here. So while I may not have lost any money at the slot machines, I did come away with a far better understanding of the future of Avaya, and it looks very good indeed.

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