I’m Excited for Avaya’s Future and Its Partners Think it will be a Breeze
Feb 19, 2017
Just back from, Avaya Engage, in Las Vegas, I’m excited for the company’s future. Avaya Engage is where customers, partners, analysts, consultants and the media meet to hear and see Avaya’s solutions and strategy. We heard from top management, as well as customers and partners, and to there was an ‘Aura’ of excitement at the event. As an analyst, I’m not talking about the type of excitement that occurs when you engage with executives for a few days over PowerPoints and cocktail parties. At this event I didn’t “drink the proverbial Kool-Aid”, so to speak, nor was I offered any. Instead, my own enthusiasm comes from having questions answered, but also just witnessing the genuine sense of enthusiasm and purpose that was pervasive throughout the event, from Avaya employees, customers and partners.
While at the end of the day it’s Avaya’s product portfolio that will ultimately carry them forward, I’d rather leave commentary on that to the end and address head on why I think the company will sail forth out of Chapter 11 and become stronger, from an organizational and people perspective.
It has been apparent that the competitive sharks have been circling Avaya since before the time last year when another market leader, Aspect, also went through Chapter 11. Of course, the entire industry would expect no less as fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) has been used as a competitive weapon from before the term was coined. While not diving into a deep comparison, in Aspect’s case the sharks circled as well. But Aspect started the process with a strong story and plan for how to go through its debt restructuring, and indeed, did so with ease, coming out stronger.
While the financials and background are certainly different, Avaya was similarly poised to get their Chapter 11 story out from day one. According to Morag Lucey, Chief Marketing Officer at Avaya, within half an hour of the filing, Avaya had its entire communication orchestra in play from print media to communications to partners, customers and suppliers. And here is where it gets better for Avaya. For partners, customers and suppliers, the FUD factor lessened, and in many cases, went away when the details of the plan emerged. It is when customers and partners don’t know what is going on that things get uncertain. Now, for the most part they know, pending the next stage in March of the details of the restructuring plan.
But for now, a lot of positive things have emerged. First, since the filing Avaya has closed over 120 deals. Second, not a lot of people have left the company. Certainly there is always scuttlebutt on people leaving whenever anything is uncertain in a company, because someone at a competitor always knows someone who is leaving or looking, and then they talk about it. Plus when things are uncertain it’s human nature for employees to put out feelers. But historically, Avaya has had an enviable retention rate of 96%, with many employees having 30 or more years with the company. During a session we had with Avaya’s Corporate Treasurer, John Sullivan, he discussed the retention rate post filing and stated that they haven’t seen any material impact on their resources as a result of the filing.
Partners Speak Out
However, the responses to the Chapter 11 impact questions asked during the partner panel session were the most telling. The panel covered the array from large systems integrator to those that cater to the SMB market. Across the board the panel was in agreement that it is business as usual with Avaya and that it was the period before the filing that raised questions if any. For instance, Doug Lang, Senior VP of Business Operations at Arrow SI stated that his company saw no fallout of Avaya business in Arrow’s first quarter after the filing, and in fact they closed two of their largest deals after the Chapter 11 announcement. He said, “The products are so strong, with such great ROI that those customers couldn’t not do it.” Others voiced similar sentiments.
Not only was I completely impressed with deep dive solution demos on the show floor, it was again the partner commentary on solutions which was really refreshing to hear. For instance, Rob Scholz, National Director – Sales Engineering at Windstream commented, “Breeze opens a whole new world of plug and play. We are working on creating apps using Breeze that are differentiators for Windstream.” Doug Lang had another perspective. He said that what he likes about Zang is he can take a customer that doesn’t have Avaya, and using Zang and Breeze in the cloud, he can then go and take pieces of those customer’s infrastructure and put it on Avaya, without ripping and replacing. He also said, “When you look at Oceana it is such a leap ahead in technology, that they have a huge potential out there for growth”.
This is nice to hear from someone in the customer trenches. And speaking of customers, Doug also spoke out as to a change he saw while he and his team manned the Arrow SI demo booth at the conference, which also reflects the change in customer’s thinking as well. He said, “I see an attempt at sophistication that I have not seen in my career. It’s the only time I haven’t had any one customer ask about how to make maintenance cheaper or how to upgrade.” He went on to say that all of his talks in the booth were about Breeze and Oceana with sophisticated thinking about what could be done. He then said that all of his crew had the same thing happen, and they didn’t get any of the commonly asked questions such as how many techs does Arrow SI have in a specific area.
If there is any downside to what I saw or heard is that Avaya’s future rests not just on the people and products, but in getting the word out solidly to customers and prospects on its solution/portfolio story. By its own admittance marketing has never been a strong suit of Avaya. With perhaps the deepest portfolio in the industry, over the years Avaya has built an incredible number of really good, feature rich solutions. But it is the breadth of products that were built to address a massively large installed base of diverse customers that creates the complexity that has consistently bogged Avaya’s messaging down. This is particularly important when it comes to its cloud story, which, compared to the industry, Avaya was late in developing. So, with the people, products and partners in place, I’m optimistic Avaya can do well, as long as they manage to clearly articulate a solid marketing story, and continue to consistently pound its new marketing message out.
Nancy Jamison is a Principal Analyst within Customer Contact within the Digital Transformation group at Frost & Sullivan. She covers all aspects of customer contact including cloud and premise-based systems and applications in the core areas of inbound/outbound routing, IVR, Workforce Optimization, and recording and analytics, with a particular focus on peripheral and emerging areas that impact the Customer Experience. These include speech technologies, omni-channel customer care, Big Data, digital marketing, Back Office Workforce Optimization, and Support Interaction Optimization.