Next-Gen Collaboration: Q&A With Avaya President of Global Services Chris Formant

With last summer’s launch of its unified communications architecture — aka “Avaya Aura” — and the purchase of Nortel Enterprise Solutions (NES) and Nortel Government Solutions (NGS) in December, Avaya has placed itself squarely in the No. 1 spot for the global enterprise telephony and unified communications, audio conferencing, enterprise messaging and contact center/ACD (automatic call distribution) spaces.

Avaya is now dealing with the major transition issues that come with the acquisition territory, but President of Global Services Christopher Formant says that expanding services, along with new capabilities and application-based architecture solutions, will be the focal points that drive future success.

CRM Buyer spoke with Formant about the company’s strategy moving forward, and what will drive the communications and contact center landscape of the future.

CRM Buyer: What is the Nortel deal bringing to the table for Avaya?

Christopher Formant:

Clearly, this acquisition increases our sales and propels us into a market share leadership position. It also strengthens our presence in the contact center and unified communications markets. Right now, Avaya is either flat-out No. 1 or No. 2 in the spaces we serve. We’ve created a kind of bipolar market with us and Cisco — then you have everyone else.

It has also helped us move and accelerate by a couple of years our channel-centricity goals. Remember, Avaya was built as a direct operation, but we’re moving aggressively to dramatically increase distribution through channel partners. Rather than doing it as onesies or twosies, Nortel helps us do it organically and achieve that target instantly.

CRM Buyer: How challenging is the transition?


Nortel had a different model that we needed to improve upon. Financially, the two companies couldn’t have been in two more different places. They were bankrupt — we were thriving. We can use our strength to work on operational improvements, as well as improve the financial performance of that asset. Throughout the duration of this calendar year, we will be getting the integration work done properly.

When a company makes a bold change, usually it’s the end-of-life for technology support. That’s not what we’re doing here. Part of our initial motivation was to make sure that Nortel customers had their investment protected. So our strategy is to first protect, then extend technology through our Aura SIP solution.

CRM Buyer: What is changing for enterprise customers and the industry?


The big megatrend is the convergence of voice video and data. That is driving a different era of collaboration and types of communication. Video is a large component moving forward, and I expect we’ll hear a lot more about that in future.

When I look at CRM, the customer experience, service and communications, I see a different way of collaboration. Social networking services like Twitter and Facebook are all part of the new ecosystem. I can’t tell you how many times we’re advising clients on how to interact with social networks. It’s not just technological hookups. Philosophically, you need to understand how to use social networks for their commercial benefit.

CRM Buyer: What about contact centers?


Clearly, we’re going to see a different world, with voice, video and data convergence along with different levels of collaboration. Tying into social networks is going to be very key; also, tying into video and different forms of communication, such as SMS-type messaging. Email will be circumvented.

Another thing that will affect how people manage contact centers is advanced voice analytics, which enables interpretation based on some emotional quotient and on certain word choices to provide recommendations.

Another transformation in the communications industry is that we’re shifting away from the network being the gateway choice of how to communicate with devices. Instead, we will see the acceleration of a more application-driven communication interaction. Aura is a manifestation of that. The best analogy I can think of is an iPhone, because it lets you run the applications you want versus someone else’s that can be customized and institutionalized for financial services, healthcare or hospitality companies.

CRM Buyer: How do you see 2010 shaping up for enterprises?


I think we are all adapting and reframing our business to accelerate adoption of consumer principles into the enterprise workspace. For example, how many CIOs fought having Macs and iPhones as part of a solution? But user adoption allowed the intrusion of Apple products to the enterprise. Demand wasn’t coming from the top down but from the bottom up. That’s the type of collaboration that has redefined what communication is.

In our future vision, I also believe that all communications will be a conference — by that I mean easy social networks that adapt themselves to all forms of communications. As conferencing opens up, it presents an entirely different vista on what it all means.

Take our new unified communications solutions for healthcare. We’ve just introduced a number of new solutions around mobile devices, such as nurse call response, patient appointment reminders and admittance/emergency processes.

CRM Buyer: Looking back at 2009 and forward to 2010, what has changed for Avaya?


Last year was the worst economic crisis experienced in our lifetime. To say last year was challenging is a pretty crude understatement. 2009 allowed Avaya to do a couple of things. It tested to the core how strong the company really was — and I think we passed that test, because we were willing to invest to buy Nortel to add to our strength currently and in the future.

I think 2010 will be a transition year. We have to successfully integrate Nortel. On paper, that may look straightforward, but it’s not lost on us that most integrations fail. We will make sure that won’t happen. We’ll be introducing new products later this year, and we have a fundamental platform at the heart of our technology moving forward.

We are hoping the global market conspires to put a little wind behind us here. We think we have all of the raw materials — hot products, technology and services, and a great market share positioning. We just need the market to lift a little bit for us so we can start to take off.

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