Avaya Chief Outlines VoIP Strategy

Convergence is an important issue to many network professionals as the technology begins to take hold in enterprise call centers and even traditional phone networks. Avaya Inc. - the former enterprise network group of Lucent Technologies Inc. that was spun off as a separate company on Oct. 2 - hopes to capitalize on the convergence push. It brings several new voice-over-IP offerings to the table, and a whole catalog of established telephony, call center products from Lucent. The firm also has some not-so-established LAN and WAN products inherited from Lucent.

Avaya's President and CEO Don Peterson took time out at the recent NetWorld+Interop 2000 show in Atlanta to talk with Network World Staff Writer Phil Hochmuth about the future of voice over IP, Avaya's role in converged enterprise networks and call centers, and his company's plans to boost its lagging data equipment market share.

NW: What will it take for voice over IP to become accepted as the central phone technology in large companies?

Peterson: I think large enterprises are going to approach it in a variety of ways. I think in areas like new offices, or branch offices . . . they're likely to start to experiment with full implementations. In traditional or large established locations . . . they're likely to move in incrementally, I think. Wholesale changeout is a major issue, much bigger than most issues that exist on the data side. If you want to go to an IP solution and replace all your voice with that, plan on training every single person from the janitor up in how to use a different phone. . . . That's an enormous problem. I've seen telecom managers lose their jobs because the boss's secretary got frustrated using a new phone system.

NW: What is the motivation for companies to implement voice over IP in some form in an enterprise network?

Peterson: I think it's going to be driven by cost savings - and they can be substantial. Certainly the long-distance savings is real. The second thing that can be real but you have to change some infrastructure out to do it, is eliminating adds, moves and changes. I haven't really seen that fully quantified yet, though.

NW: So big companies aren't going to be changing out their traditional PBXs any time soon?

Peterson: I don't think so. Not anytime soon at all. Even the companies that provide it - including us, including Cisco, and Nortel - I'm sure this is also true. They are not ready to put [Nortel CEO] John Roth or [Cisco CEO] John Chambers on an IP phone.

NW: What steps are you taking to improve your position in the data equipment market?

Peterson: One facet is the partnering. Marconi is a great example of that. [Marconi is currently reselling Cajun Ethernet switches from Avaya]. Another is increasing the skill-set capability of our own direct channels to sell data products. We have historically been in the telephony side, and much of the [sales] leadership has been telephony-based. Even when we added data products at the bottom and trained sales reps, we were finding that's a necessary but insufficient capability. We really need to have the leadership of the sales organization data-ready if you will, and maybe even data-centric in order to pull that through.

NW: Will Avaya's Cajun Ethernet switches be more of a supporting product line for your converged voice systems down the road, or will you be pushing the Cajun product line as a data infrastructure product on its own?

Peterson: We think the biggest leverage for near-term gains is the voice applications of these products, and we think our credibility is pulling through voice; as these products become more accepted and so forth, people will be more open to their functionality and serviceability. But we don't think it's a good investment to market directly at those markets from where we are today. But once they're in, and [customers] are using the [products], I think the barriers come down. Voice over IP means convergence, which means data is going over those same boxes, so by definition, you're picking up the data traffic.

NW: What is your view of the Web call center integration from a consumer standpoint?

Peterson: Click-to-talk technology - that's where we think it's going. There's no point in having click to talk go to a different call center than your 800 number goes to. Our products don't do that; we're fully integrated. Through IP connections, we can integrate call centers literally anywhere around the world, whether it's individual agents working from home or call center facilities. We can move the calls, with the context, anywhere we need to go.

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