Avaya launches R&D unit in Sydney

Lucent Technologies spin-off Avaya Communications has set up a research operation, Avaya Labs, at its Sydney headquarters.

The research unit is inviting business users to trial networking technology at its North Ryde premises. "You'll see technology and bandwidth capabilities you've not seen before," Steven Weeks, MD of Avaya Australia, said. Getting back to the grassroots was a key consideration in testing the market with new CRM offerings, and being able to gauge maximum feedback early in the marketing roadmap, he said. "R&D used to be technology-driven. That's old now. We're at the helm of broadening customer demand for new technologies."

Scott Coles, director of Avaya Labs Australia, cited network security and user privacy as critical research areas over the next few years.

Formely part of Lucent's US-based Bell Labs, Avaya Labs' core business is in developing multivendor e-commerce and CRM applications, business operation systems and IP telephony for large organisations. Classic examples of Avaya's research interests included customer authentication technology for financial services companies, and "motion-based" routing for call centre agents dealing with "rowdy clients", Coles said.

Executives did not dismiss the possibility of opening another lab interstate. "We'll look at research talent in the consulting area in Melbourne in particular," he said. Avaya will also focus on remote working strategies for research personnel, with ambitions to build a satellite facility in Australia, Coles said.

According to Weeks, Avaya's global R&D arm has clocked up $8 billion in revenue. Avaya will try carving its own identity in the high-end networking market by shedding the Lucent name, Weeks said. "We're not controlled or owned by Lucent. We're an autonomous, global spin-off."

Avaya Labs will set up a stringent recruiting drive for the Australian facility, scanning universities for top talent well before students' graduation, Coles said. While the field for IT talent here is competitive, he conceded Australia "has it easier" than the US.

"Six years ago there were different pools of people divided by [industry sector]. Now C++ and Java technology, for example, are everywhere, so you can bet the top 20 per cent of graduates will have those skills." Avaya has hired six new graduates for 2001 through proactive, word-of-mouth recruiting. "Technology is not gee-whiz stuff now, but we differentiate our [working] environment from our competitors. Graduates see Avaya as a comfortable, collegiate environment," Coles said.

Avaya has boosted global R&D expenditure by $1.3 billion in the last year, rising from 6.7 to 8 per cent of global operating cost over that period, according to Coles. The Australian R&D group has grown from six software engineers in late 1997 to 60 this year. Headcount would hit 200 over the next year, he predicted.

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