Monday, November 20, 2006

Avaya�s Global Analyst Conference � Review

During the latter part of last week I attended the Avaya Global Analyst Conference in Boston, and I just wanted to share my high level views on the event. As with most analyst events, this is really for analysts-only, and most of the content is under NDA. So, I don�t have any scoops here, and if I did, I wouldn�t be posting them until I get the say-so from Avaya. That�s fair.

I had every intention of blogging sooner, but my PC has been acting very strange, and I haven�t been able to use the keyboard. In fact, this first happened right in the middle of CEO Lou D�Ambrosio�s keynote, so from that point on, I�ve had to rely on hand-written notes. Not a good idea.

Overall, I�d say this was a very well organized and well-run event, befitting an industry leader like Avaya. Not OTT - as Dame Edna would say (over-the-top for the rest of us) � but not underwhelming either � just right. And that�s not a given. It�s easy to over-spend and spoil the analysts, which dilutes the integrity of the conference, and it�s also easy to skimp and do things on the cheap. Neither approach serves the interests of maintaining a balanced relationship with this community. I think Avaya got it just right.

There was definitely a strong French flavor to the event, embodied best by the CMO, Jocelyne Attal, and the Moulin Rouge cabaret feel for the main room where the keynotes were given (see photos below). And of course, zee wine tasting dinner that she hosted on Thursday night. C�est tres bon. Ok, that was a fancy meal, but not overly so, and was a great way for everyone to experience something fun together. With all this French-ness around us, and the heavy red motif of Avaya everywhere, you had to wonder for a second if it wasn�t Avaya that Alcatel has merged with? I digress...

For me, the opening keynote from CEO Lou D�Ambrosio set the tone. He has a great presence and communicated a clear message that Avaya is playing to win and has what it takes to be a global leader and innovator. He certainly gives John Chambers a good run for his money, and gives you confidence to believe that Avaya has a strong vision , teamwork and the will to execute on it.

At a high level � and I really have to keep it there � he talked about how IP telephony is now well beyond the basic cost savings, TCO and network efficiency benefits. The value proposition for IP is much richer- it�s about transforming business processes and redefining how companies do business � �moving up the value stack� with �Intelligent Communications�. That�s aiming high, but it�s a good place to be if you can get there. Following his keynote were other senior execs, who all presented capable variations on this theme for their various lines of business.

I think most would agree the highlight was the customer presentation by Brian Murphy of Whirlpool. Without getting into the details, he gave a great overview of how Avaya has become a strategic partner, doing much more than converging their communications. This is the business transformation story come to life, which is where Avaya believes it can position itself today. In the right situations and with the right partners, I can certainly see how this can work, and really deliver the full potential of IP to the enterprise.

The rest of the conference was taken up with the standard breakout sessions and one-on-one briefings. These were well organized and quite informative. There are a number of news releases coming, and at this point, the only public item is their acquisition of Traverse Networks. This is a fairly small deal, similar to what Cisco just did with Orative, and gives Avaya a higher level of mobile integration for their IP Office and other enterprise offerings. It also adds another layer to their Unified Communications solution and Converged Communications suite.

Deals like this show that Avaya has its feet on the ground following new technologies, and is not averse to acquiring missing pieces along the way. I was impressed to hear how extensive their technology partner program is � DevConn � DeveloperConnection � with over 3,800 companies in their ecosystem.

On the corporate marketing side, Avaya has done a good job to position itself as an innovator and leader. For the mass market, they�ve done things like partner with FIFA for the World Cup to create broader awareness. To make IP more accessible, they publish a series of IP for �Dummies� booklets. They have the �Truck�, which is a mobile demo studio for their various solutions. And certainly anyone local would immediately associate Avaya with Boston�s sports teams. The Avaya logo is impossible to miss at Fenway Park, and both the Sox and Celtics are Avaya customers.

Sometimes you just have to lead the horse to water, and it�s a different market today. Incumbent vendors can�t take anything for granted any more from their traditional customers, but companies like Avaya also understand they have to do their part to educate the market and drive demand.

To sum up, it looks to me like Avaya gets it with IP. With growing profits, and cash in the bank, the results are plain to see, and something tells me we�ll be seeing more acquisitions like Traverse in 2007. They�ve got a great product portfolio for both SMB and enterprise, and if things unfold as per the messages we were hearing this week, Avaya will have a great blueprint for how to be both big and on the leading edge of IP, which is a pretty tough hand to beat.

Here are a few photos, courtesy of my Nokia N90, which by the way, was a hit with everyone who saw it. Definitely still has a cool factor. If only it weren't so fussy as a camera...


CEO Lou D'Ambrosio's keynote



I didn't see a magic demo where they made all these phones ring at once, but something tells me they probably could have if they wanted to....


I couldn't resist. Celtics Pride isn't hard to miss when you're near North Station, especially to honor Red Auerbach's memory. Being an Avaya customer, I have to wonder if there's any connection between the conference being in Boston, and all of a sudden the Celts starting to win some games. If so, maybe Avaya could stretch out the conference, say, until May???


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