Avaya CEO on changes, competition

Lois D'Ambrosio discusses Avaya's business and the enterprise VoIP market

Avaya, as well as other IP telephony providers, often cite the fact that your products run on Linux as a selling point for stability and security. But based on copyright infringement comments Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has made about Linux in general, is this something to worry about?

That has never come up with one customer. Not one has ever brought that up. We run on Linux. Microsoft runs on its own platforms, Live Communications server.

Given that many companies are just figuring out how to tie IP and telephony networks together, are enterprises ready for some of the next-step integration plans Avaya is pushing, such as weaving VoIP into SOA [service-oriented architecture] and business processes?

Market readiness has to do with many things. It has to do with how compelling the value proposition is. When you can do things -- such as with Whirlpool, which compressed certain processes from two hours down to two minutes [using integrated messaging applications from Avaya] -- the market cannot afford not to be ready. Will there be companies that may not be ready? Will some of them be left behind? Probably. It would be a profound mistake to slow down innovation under the guise of the market not being ready.

Telephony installation and support services have always been a large part of Avaya's business. How is this affected by the major shifts going on in Avaya -- such as becoming a software-centric company?

When you're talking about injecting core [voice and messaging] applications into business processes, wraparound services for sure are very important. There's a direct correlation between the newness of a technology and the propensity of an organization to buy services from the manufacturer. Given where we are in this market, there's a clear interest from customers to want to have single points of accountability. We deliver that. It is a differentiator, a secret weapon for us. It's the ability to say, as you go through a very complex transition, there's one person to call.

We are evolving the services business to go into some of the more advanced types of services -- professional services, services that integrate voice applets into business processes. Professional services that grow at a very rapid rate. We've gone through significant skill enhancements over the years. We've built up professional services capabilities. We've brought on a set of people who truly understand IT. We've spent a lot of money in terms of developing existing services force to deliver that. We have leadership: The person who handles all of our services came from Oracle.

With so much "up-the-stack" focus on software and business processes, do you foresee a day when Avaya stops selling telephones?

I think there will be a proliferation of endpoints. Ergonomically, people will continue to have an affinity with the desktop phone. Every focus group we've ever run, people are not going to be comfortable not having a desktop phone. There will continue to be broader use of softphones. Mobility will continue to [expand]. What's important is that experience becomes integrated. That's why we have the type of ecosystem we have with [Research In Motion], with Nokia, with Motorola and Microsoft and IBM. I think in the foreseeable future phones will continue to be sold. I also think there will continue to be a proliferation of devices through which people will communicate, in addition to their desktop phones.

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