Avaya CEO talks app server, economic opportunities

Avaya CEO Charles Giancarlo talks unified communications
  • Tim Greene (Network World)
  • 27 October, 2008 08:51

Interim Avaya CEO Charles Giancarlo is winding down his tenure at the helm as the company narrows down a permanent replacement for former CEO Lou D'Ambrosio, who stepped down earlier this year for health reasons.

Giancarlo hosted the company's annual analyst meeting last week at which he talked about a new SIP Application Server that could make it simpler for customers to integrate communications capabilities directly into corporate business applications. The goal is for customers to be able to do the integration as well as independent software vendors.

The server is based on the carrier grade SIP Application Server acquired by Avaya when it bought Ubiquity Software last year. Avaya will also upgrade its endpoint software to support features that end users have become familiar with via consumer products such as mobile phones.

During the conference, Giancarlo discussed these and other issues with Tim Greene.

What's the background on the SIP Application Server?

It's in beta now and will be available early next year. The SIP Application Server is a new set of capabilities built on a SIP engine that allows for very high scalability of communications systems - it's not just limited to voice systems. It's a completely open system so it lets third parties develop either SIP-based applications and/or endpoints and devices to be able to connect into the system both for use as well as control of the environment.

What will customers be able to do that they couldn't before?

It's a highly scalable environment so customers that are very large, not just tens of thousands but hundreds of thousands, it will enable them to operate as a fully integrated enterprise. That had not been available before. It will give them great flexibility if they have a multi-vendor environment for their telephony and communications environment. It will allow them to do a much better job of integrating those different vendors into a coherent integrated communications environment.

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So they'll be able to use their legacy equipment?

They'll not only have the legacy equipment but have the same dial plan, be able to have some level of feature transparency across those different vendors. It will also provide the ability to use unique new endpoints, whether they're mobile phones now tied in with SIP capability to a private dial plan in addition to their public dial plan. It will enable messaging to go to those devices. The same could be true for desktop applications and integration of SIP into those desktop applications so that if you place a phone call you might be able to share an application or data with that same user without having to go through some other call setup process for that application environment.

They'll be enabled via SIP, which is a standard, but will there be any APIs where you have an active partnership and license the API?

Indeed. Already today that SIP Application Server in the service provider space is being used with service provider applications provided on top of it for advanced functionality. As we introduce it into the enterprise world we're expecting some of the same capabilities to come about. But the early introduction is based mostly on our own applications on top of that. Generally it takes a bit longer before third parties get involved. They want to see some kind of installed base first before they develop. But it will be open, we will have developer toolkits available for it.

What hot application will Avaya develop to seed the market?

The ability to easily integrate enterprise applications into an enterprise communications environment is a big one. So for example either to be able to go from an application and click to call depending on where you are in that application to the appropriate agent within your own company in many cases for communications on an important topic or vice versa. You're on a phone call and you then need to share information from your PC or from within an enterprise application to the person you're speaking with. I think those are very exciting. The ability to do voice and data on the same device obviously but in particular to be able to display enterprise information on the phone sets I think is an exciting area. From within an enterprise application automatically to be able to pull a variety of parties together for communication under certain event situations are exciting opportunities.

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What changes do you foresee in endpoint software?

Making it more flexible and more responsive more intuitive to end users so they are able to do things they are commonly able to do on their cell phones plus do things that are tightly tied to the way they do their business inside their enterprise environment. The industry has lagged behind the cell phone industry, the consumer industry, in making our devices easy to use, in making them content-rich and in integrating in the types of standard applications like Rolodex, like address book that everybody uses every day.

Two is making it virtually the same software that operates on the phone, on the desktop that can be ported to an applet that exists on top of a cell phone or in a kiosk so that as we update and improve the endpoint software with new features and capabilities that that improvement is able to appear everywhere our customers may have employed a new endpoint or a new system.

Third is opening it up so not only third parties but also customers themselves can easily integrate their enterprise application environments into that Internet telephony, unified communications environment, so they can have their apps on the phone or their apps tightly integrated with a soft client on a PC. As an industry we've set an extraordinarily low bar so there's a great opportunity to improve upon that.

How will you make it simpler for customers to interact with Avaya?

What they should see is more tools from Avaya both on our Web site and available through other methods by which either they or their partners can perform more self service on our products, easier upgrade of software and other capabilities. So I do believe we will make ourselves easier to do business with, easier availability in particular of information about our products. The biggest change customers should see is more information more easily available, more easily findable. Hopefully we'll improve customer satisfaction as well.

You describe the economic downturn as an opportunity. What do you mean by that?

There are two issues. How much does it affect IT if at all and specifically our part of the business? And regardless of that, how does it affect our opportunity to pick up marketshare from weaker competitors? What we saw during the economic downturn in 2001 was that there was a flight to quality, and we believe that Avaya is one of the two financially strong companies in this business. The other would be Cisco. We believe that there will be another flight to quality.

It will be interesting to see whether or how much IT suffers as a result of the economy. There's quite a bit of sentiment out there that it's very possible that IT will not suffer nearly as much as the rest of the economy because of the opportunity of IT to reduce costs of business. With the cost-reduction mode in most businesses it may drive them to increase the amount they spend on IT. (See story about whether the economy could cause IT pros to crack.)