Avaya sets its sights on firms with converged networks

By Phil Hochmuth, Network World |  Software

Six months after being spun off from Lucent, Avaya has made several moves to shore up product lines where it lacked technologies. Still some nagging questions still remain for Avaya's top executives, such as whether Cisco will run roughshod over the IP telephony and customer relationship management markets -- key areas for Avaya -- and if the company can boost its LAN switch business and its Ethernet switch port market share. While Avaya CEO Don Peterson is aware of those issues, he is taking the firm in some new directions.

First, Peterson sees CRM as a key area where his firm can gain ground on its two largest enterprise foes: Cisco and Nortel Networks. Avaya has been strong in the call center market for years with its industry-standard Definity PBX and telephone handsets. (Almost one-third of Fortune 500 companies use Avaya's circuit-switched telephony gear.) In February, Avaya snapped up CRM firm Quintus for $30 million. Quintus makes software for managing customer orders, order inquiries and service requests with one application that ties together phone and e-mail systems along with Web technology.

The Quintus acquisition drew high marks from analysts, with a report from Current Analysis stating, "Avaya may be on the inside track to build a strong presence if it can exploit Quintus' previous partnerships and installed base."

According to Lawrence Byrd, CRM evangelist at Avaya and a former Quintus executive, previous partnerships between Avaya and Quintus will allow for an extremely short learning curve for integrating the technology from the two firms.

"What the acquisition of Quintus is doing is accelerating Avaya's already existing investment in this area of what we call CRM interaction management," which involves how businesses handle customer calls, e-mails and Web inquiries on a case-by-case basis, Byrd says. What Quintus gives Avaya, he adds, is a finely honed level of CRM capabilities to run on top of its hardware infrastructures.

"CRM is the level that says, 'I care more about the customer ... and less about how the bits and bytes move around on the bottom of the communications infrastructure,'" Byrd says.

Realizing those infrastructure changes are coming, Peterson made one of his first objectives to augment Avaya's IP product business.

"We've made changes in our sales organization to put much deeper data skills in senior management positions," Peterson says. "We then worked down the organization to integrate more data skills ... We're going to be better equipped to help data [salespeople] deal with voice, than we've been successful to get voice people to be data salesmen."

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