Think Avaya. Think Cloud.

Feb 09, 2018

A New Company with a New Vision

Avaya Engage, the communications vendor’s annual partner and customer event, took place from January 28th-31st in quaint, music-filled New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA). It’s fair to say, Avaya customers and partners, as well as industry analysts were all jazzed-up to celebrate Avaya’s emergence from Chapter 11 and hear about its strategy going forward.  Spirits were high and the sentiments were mostly positive.

The acquisition of contact-center-as-a-service (CCaaS) provider Spoken and the launch of Avaya Ava, an artificial intelligence (AI) agent, represented the two key announcements at the event. I will not go into much detail on these topics as they’ve been covered elsewhere by others. I will instead focus on the main theme of the event: "Think Avaya. Think Cloud." This mantra reveals Avaya’s vision for the growth opportunities it intends to pursue in a future brightened by reduced debt burden, restructured internal operations and its evolving portfolio.

It became obvious at Avaya Engage that the current executive team is determined to shift Avaya's focus to the cloud in terms of both technology development and business model. The team acknowledges that they are a bit late to the game and that most of their cloud portfolio is work in progress, but they are united by a common mandate and understanding of the areas that need improvement.

Avaya’s Cloud Journey

Avaya’s cloud portfolio has been in flux for over five years. The vendor reports an existing base of 3 million cloud users, most of which are in private cloud environments. A notable 56 percent of the vendor’s revenue is already coming from recurring software and services, which Mercer Rowe, the new head of Avaya’s Cloud business unit, considers a solid foundation for a cloud-based future.

Avaya‘s cloud journey started approximately 6 years ago. At Enterprise Connect 2012, Avaya launched the Avaya Collaborative Cloud framework, which I discussed in this article.  The first product in Avaya’s cloud portfolio was AvayaLive Connect (later renamed Avaya Live)—a public cloud solution based on Nortel (originally PingTel) sipXecs technology and targeted at small businesses of up to 20 users.  A multi-tenant (or multi-instance) version of Avaya Aura was also launched for service provider partners. Since then, Avaya has revamped its cloud portfolio and strategy several times, as follows:

  • Avaya Live was discontinued shortly after launch (specific date is not available) due to limited traction and perceived poor fit with Avaya’s overall market position and value proposition.
  • In 2015, Avaya launched telephony/UC and contact center OnAvaya (retail) and Powered by Avaya offerings (partner-delivered) offerings based on IP Office and IP Office Contact Center technologies and leveraging Google Cloud Platform. 
  • In 2016, Avaya launched Zang, a wholly-owned subsidiary and a cloud-based platform.

The launch of Zang got a lot of industry observers excited. Leveraging assets and staff from Avaya’s 2015 acquisition of Esna, Zang Cloud is intended to serve as both a publicly available communications platform as a service (CPaaS) and the foundation for future Avaya cloud communications offerings. As a registered telecommunications service provider, Zang offers a full range of application programing interface (API)-driven voice and short messaging services (SMS), phone numbers, call recording and other carrier services to third-party application developers. Zang subsequently launched Zang Spaces and Zang Office. Zang Office is a simple, yet flexible cloud PBX solution that supports Avaya desktop phones, PC-based softphones, and mobile device apps. Zang Spaces compliments Zang Office by providing team collaboration capabilities, including persistent team chat, multi-party audio and video conferencing, presence, document sharing, dedicated mobile apps, and more.

Winds of Change

The ‘new’ Avaya is determined to further rationalize and enhance its cloud communications and contact center portfolio. Going forward, all new solutions will be developed with a cloud-first approach: i.e., they must be best suited for cloud environments, and only as a secondary option—also feasible in premises-based implementations. Avaya is also introducing agile development methodologies with a 6-8 week software release cadence. Furthermore, the vendor is committing to open standards, modular design, flexible APIs, AI-based automation and other cloud-centric strategies.

Here is how Avaya is transforming its cloud communications and contact center portfolio:

  • Powered by Avaya (i.e., partner-hosted) IP Office and IP Office Contact Center are available today and will continue to be offered in the foreseeable future. These offerings have been reported to have had limited success so far due to solution complexity and modest focus. Most of the focus impediments have been cleared and Avaya is already seeing early gains. Pending simplification and enhancements are likely to boost adoption even further in the future.
  • A new Contact Centre Cloud solution is to be launched soon leveraging the acquired Spoken technology to enable a smoother transition for existing Avaya premises-based customers to the cloud. Spoken’s architecture provides a cloud-native multi-tenanted solution that leverages Avaya Aura and Elite technologies. It also provides access to IntelligentWire's artificial intelligence and deep learning technologies.
  • A new IP Office Cloud solution will be launched in the near future, which will expand IP Office consumption options. The re-architected solution will be containerized (based on Kubernetes containers), automated and hosted in Google Cloud (and potentially also in Amazon AWS EKS and partners' data centers). IP Office Cloud will be available in Avaya-hosted and partner-hosted models, but will be sold strictly through partners. Product features and pricing have not yet been finalized and formally announced. The demonstration showed three versions in easy-to-order bundles.
  • Merging Scopia, Zang Spaces and Avaya Conferencing, Avaya Equinox Online—a cloud-based video conferencing, team spaces and collaboration solution—will be launched in the near future. Using Zang APIs, Equinox will expose IM, chat, meetings and other Zang Spaces features. Eventually, Zang Spaces will become available to all Equinox users. 
  • Going forward, other Avaya cloud communications and contact center offerings are likely to be launched (including some based on Avaya Aura), hosted by Avaya or select partners.
  • Zang (similar to Spoken) will be folded into the Avaya Cloud business unit going forward, losing its independent subsidiary status. Zang Office was originally tailored (in terms of feature-set, sales/provisioning, etc.) for very small businesses and sold directly and through agents. Going forward, Avaya will shift its focus toward the new IP Office Cloud offering, which will be better aligned with Avaya’s typical target base and skill set. The born-in-cloud surround of Zang such as the marketplace, billing, taxation, identity/licensing agent and other back-office capabilities will be leveraged in future offerings and will support both IP Office Cloud and the new Spoken UC and CC offerings. Zang Cloud (CPaaS) will continue to evolve and be integrated into other Avaya-branded solutions.

Avaya Cloud.gif

 

Avaya’s new cloud strategy also envisions a key role for communications endpoints. A new J-series SIP-and WebRTC-compatible endpoints will become available for IP Office Cloud. Third-party endpoints may also be supported in the future, but presently the full Avaya feature set is only supported on Avaya endpoints. Avaya is also making a concerted effort to make its open SIP communications endpoints an option with third-party call control platforms (BroadSoft, Metaswitch, open source, etc.).

Another very important step, in general, not only from a cloud strategy point of view, is the company's focus on making it easier to do business with Avaya: simplifying the portfolio and solutions, becoming more responsive to partner and customer concerns by eliminating internal structural inefficiencies, and other strategies. Avaya is doubling down on customer service and support, which will include more training, better coordination internally, expanding survey data collection, streamlined self-service, and so on. To improve responsiveness and accountability, higher management will be automatically notified about major incidents and customer complaints that can potentially require their involvement. As part of the same effort, marketing functions will be integrated into product development units to ensure better coordination.

Conclusion

It’s difficult to assess how effective Avaya’s cloud portfolio is going to be until it is complete and clear how the different solutions will be positioned. Given Avaya’s predominantly mid-market and enterprise customer base and commitment to its partner channel, the reduced focus on the retail Zang Office offering may be a good decision. A feature-rich, highly scalable and automated IP Office Cloud offering, on the other hand, will enable Avaya to penetrate a broad spectrum of customers—from SMB to enterprise. Flexible and scalable cloud contact center offerings will boost Avaya’s market position and provide critical differentiation considering that most UCaaS providers lack sophisticated contact center offerings, whereas most cloud contact center providers lack UCaaS portfolios. CPaaS and online collaboration offerings nicely round out Avaya’s cloud portfolio.

Overall, Avaya’s focus on cloud as it emerges from Chapter 11 is, by all measures, the only right thing to do. There is a lot of work to be done, but Avaya has assembled a very talented team with the potential to steer it in the right direction. I was happy to hear that the company is looking to replace its typical Modus Operandi of extreme caution with that of thoughtful execution. A few years ago, I thought it was prudent of Avaya to take its time to develop the right cloud solutions portfolio to match its core skill set and customer base. Today, it must act fast to catch up with the competition and regain some lost territory. To achieve notable success, Avaya must marry a well thought-out portfolio with highly effective execution.


Elka Popova

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