Business Phone System Comparison: Featuring Avaya

by Jeff Wiener on February 24, 2011

Over the course of the next few weeks will highlight some of the more popular business phone systems sold to the Small Medium business market. We sent a series of questions, as you will see below, to a number of the larger manufacturers of business phone systems and asked for their responses which we are publishing exactly as provided by the manufacturer. At the end of the series we will do a round-up and comparison of the major brands. Some of the brands which we will highlight include: Avaya, Cisco, ShoreTel, NEC, Mitel, Toshiba, and Panasonic.

We have now highlighted Panasonic, Avaya, Mitel, and ShoreTel.

Disclaimer: I am the President of and have an obvious bias toward the products Digitcom sells. I am NOT the person writing these posts, nor will I be the person doing the round-up. That will be done by one of writers. We’re trying to make this as objective as possible.

There’s an obvious market trend toward VoIP, some of the manufacturers only have a VoIP solution. We’re going to delve into the call center, and finish with the following question (which sits on my mind as well):
Do you view manufacturers of smart phones, companies like Apple and RIM, as a competitive threat, not necessarily today but 3 to 5 years from now?

So stay tuned over the next 4 weeks. I am going to try and publish these posts on Tuesday and Thursday of every week until we’re done. This week we’re going to highlight the Avaya IP Office, an extremely scalable feature rich well priced, and well positioned product selling into the SMB space.

Q: Who are you and what position do you have with Avaya?
A: My name is Rich DeFabritus, and I am a Senior Marketing Manager with the Avaya Small and Medium Enterprise Communications (SMEC) business unit. I am responsible for global product marketing and segment strategy for the Avaya SMEC portfolio. I also lead the social media efforts for the group.

Q: Can you describe Avaya’s offering in the SMB space and address the following questions:
• What is your SMB phone system called?
• What is the system capacity?
• Do you have more than one model in the SMB space?

A: Our flagship product for the SMB space is called Avaya IP Office, serving either standalone locations from 5 to 384 users, or multiple locations with up to 1000 users across 32 sites. It delivers big business communications capabilities at a price point that a small business demands.

What’s great about IP Office is how simple it is for a small business to purchase and use. For example, a small business owner may not understand terms like “mobile twinning” or “softphones”. What they do understand is that they have employees with functional roles – a “receptionist” or a “customer service agent”. IP Office offers what we call “user productivity solutions” – applications that enable unified communications based on the functional profile of each user in the business. The SMB no longer requires multiple applications to meet their communications needs. Rather, they select one of seven different user profiles – such as Office Worker or Customer Service Agent – simplifying packaging and ordering, and making it easier to understand what applications are required.

Q: Does your phone system support both digital and IP phones?

A: IP Office is an IP-based unified communications solution that lets SMB workers handle all of their business collaboration using the device of their choice. So you can choose from a range of IP phones, digital phones, or analog devices to connect to the system. There are also a range of on-premises mobility options for warehouses or campus-type environments. With the IP Office Power User and Mobile Worker user productivity solutions, you can even leverage mobile devices like smart phones or a video softphone on a laptop to keep employees connected at all times.

Q: Do you have a call center offering and what is the capacity of the call center including agents and queues?

A: Yes – as part of our Advanced Edition group collaboration option, there is an application called Customer Call Reporter which allows a small business to track and measure customer service and individual agent productivity through an easy to use, single screen browser interface. Additionally, they can record customer calls to a dedicated storage facility in the event they need to search and replay any conversation with a customer.

We just introduced the ability for SMEs to leverage geospatial business intelligence – basically a fancy way of saying you can map all calls to the contact center on a geographic map. This allows the SME to tailor campaigns based on demography or apply resources to specific regions according to the volume of calls generated in that location. This sort of capability is typically out of reach for the small business owner, but it’s a great example of how we bring those big business features to our SME customers at an affordable price.

Customer Call Reporter can scale to a maximum of 150 agents and 30 supervisors, so you are talking a pretty good sized call center for small business. If for any reason, all of the agents are on the phone, then the number of calls waiting to be answered can be queued, and presented to the first available agent. If the call is not answered it is presented to the next available agent and so on until answered.

Q: Does your call center offering support skills based routing?

A: The IP Office can be configured to queue incoming calls that are being presented to a specific group of internal users – for example, the agents as I noted before. We call this Automatic Call Distribution (ACD), and you can have an unlimited amount of ACD queues. Callers also have the option of “queuing out” if they don’t want to wait, and can either leave a message or reach an operator.

Q: What level of integration does your product support with respect to integration with Outlook? For example, can you, from within the calendar, access your mailbox settings and define the greeting to use while at a certain appointment? What other features does the product have with respect to calendar integration?

A: one-X Portal for IP Office is a browser-based application that lets a user control their telephone and telephone calls, view details of calls and directories of contacts, and configure settings that affect how calls are treated by the system. As part of that application, we have a “gadget” known as Call Assistant. Call Assistant can also be used to pop up details of calls or to show the matching contact in Microsoft Outlook if you are already running Outlook. You can also use the Call Assistant to select and dial a number shown by another Windows application.

We also support an application called InTouch, which is offered by our DevConnect Partner AdvaTel. InTouch is a plug-in for Microsoft Outlook that lets SMBs federate presence with contacts across every major platform – both internal and external to the small business. As it is a plug-in, there are no separate servers to maintain, and it is very easy to install. Prime contacts are always on display, with their presence shown to the right of the Outlook pane. Contacts can be seen from the IP Office system, Skype, MSN or Yahoo, and you can simply click to dial, IM, send email, or even an SMS text message.

Q: System redundancy can be a complicated topic, but can you describe, from a high level perspective, how your system supports redundancy?

Although not a common occurrence, failure of a communications system is a potential disruption that SMBs need to consider. To mitigate this risk, SMBs may purchase extra equipment as insurance to prevent a prolonged loss of communications, which is known as redundancy – basically duplicating the critical components for the purpose of business continuity. By having a duplicate communications switch, the SMB has a backup should the primary switch go offline. You can implement IP Office in this fashion, and the SMB always has the peace of mind knowing that there’s extra equipment if needed.

However, many SMBs have more than one location, and installing redundant switches in every location can get expensive – fast. Why have idle or redundant hardware that isn’t being used? IP Office takes business continuity to another level by allowing SMBs to maintain communications during a disruption on only the equipment necessary for operation under normal circumstances – meaning, you don’t need an extra switch at every site like our competitors require.

Let’s assume there are 2 sites – site A and site B. If site B has a disruption to the switch, then all of the phones, features, licenses – everything – will automatically failover to the live switch on site A. Site B can continue to make and receive calls as if nothing happened. We even extend this resilience to our Preferred Edition voice mail, so a small business is really prepared in the off chance there is an outage.

With no moving parts such as fans or hard drives, and a 68-year mean time between failure (MTBF), the IP Office 500 communications server is extremely reliable to begin with. However, knowing how damaging a disruption or outage can be to a small business, we want to provide the best protection if that occurs.

Q: Where do you see the SMB market headed over the course of the next five years?

A: Well, in the shorter term, you’ll definitely see SMBs continue to adopt IP telephony. It may seem odd, but a large number of small businesses are still using older key systems or even single- and multi-line cordless systems. Yet, IP networks are virtually ubiquitous – nearly everyone has email or a web page.

IP phones are now as easy to install as their digital or analog counterparts, yet many SMBs still use digital phones. With more SMBs taking advantage of applications, we see the IP extension as “future-proof”, since some applications will ultimately reside on the telephone. We’ll have a line of touch-screen phones that should accelerate this, especially in verticals like hospitality, where multifunctional phones are a necessity.

There is a growing segment of SMBs that are much more receptive to new technology, what you might call “early adopters”. These are companies that place a high value on open standards – in the communications world, we have SIP – and have the resources to better exploit the benefits of this type of architecture. We have a solution – Avaya Software Communication System (SCS) – which is a software-based unified communications solution. All the control software resides on an industry-standard PC, and it enables SMBs to utilize powerful communications applications that can dramatically improve employee productivity, reduce costs, and enhance customer service. We offer this solution in selected markets.

Q: Do you view manufacturers of smart phones, companies like Apple and RIM, as a competitive threat, not necessarily today but 3 to 5 years from now?

A: SMBs relying more on mobile solutions and looking to consolidate costs as well as devices. We make it incredibly easy for a small business to integrate their smart phones and mobile devices with their communications system, so right now, we have a synergistic relationship, and I believe that will remain for the near future.

Of course, Avaya continues to innovate in this space. You’ve seen our recent announcement of the Avaya Flare™ Experience on the Avaya Desktop Video Device, which brings collaboration to a new level in a contextually aware, people-centric device. We are confident we’ll remain the market leader as technologies – and business needs – continue to evolve.

Other Business Phone System Comparison Posts:

Business Phone System Comparison: Featuring Panasonic

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