Avaya Arms For Unified Communication Battle

In a bid to better compete in the crowded enterprise unified communications (UC) landscape, Avaya today introduced several offerings for mobile workers and a services program, all geared toward helping businesses achieve better workforce responsiveness.

Today’s product announcements puts the telephony call center giant head-to-head with a growing list of UC vendors including IBM, Cisco, Citrix, Nortel Networks and Microsoft.

At the heart of Avaya’s (NYSE: AV) new launches is its Intelligent Presence server, featuring an application that collects and integrates users’ presence information — that is, their location, status and availability — from multiple sources.

Those sources include landline and mobile phones, and e-mail and instant messaging (IM) applications. The server can pull users’ availability information from those sources into other apps to help coordinate activities and collaboration.

“We define UC as orchestrating communication and collaboration across time, location and medium to accelerate business,” Allan Mendelsohn, the company’s senior marking director, told InternetNews.com. “We are about making communication happen with the right people, at the right time, despite whatever network location device. It’s all about working smarter.”

The product also integrates user information from third-party communication tools as well, such as Google e-mail.

Avaya’s Intelligent Presence server is built on the Jabber Extensive Communications Platform, a real-time enterprise instant messaging and presence platform licensed from Jabber, Inc., and based on the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP). In addition to XMPP, the Intelligent Presence server also ties into other protocols often used by enterprise VOIP, IM and messaging and collaboration platforms, including Session Initiation Protocol (also known as SIP) and SIP’s IM-focused offshoot, SIMPLE.

As a result, it will also integrate with Microsoft Office Communicator. Future integration with IBM (NYSE: IBM) Lotus Sametime and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) Exchange will come later in the year, Avaya said.

Available in the second quarter, the offering will become a component of Avaya’s Unified Communications Standard Edition, the vendor’s overarching UC software suite — though it will also be sold individually.

New capabilities, deepening rivalries

The effort comes as competition continues at a brisk pace in the UC space. Earlier this month, Microsoft and Nortel (NYSE: NT) pushed out a suite of applications in a joint UC offering, building on Microsoft’s Office Communications Server 2007. Last week, newcomer NEC announced new tools for its month-old UC platform, and IBM pledged to spend $1 billion to better compete with rivals in the arena.

Despite the crowded marketplace, one industry pundit believes Avaya’s efforts could propel the New Jersey-based, privately held company past competitors in the industry’s potentially lucrative quest to create communications-enabled business processes (CEBP).

The allure of CEBPs is that they promise to remove inefficiencies in everyday business actions — automating tasks now tied to human activity. For example, a CEBP could instantly alert specific employees about an inventory dip and arrange a meeting for decision-making discussion.

“The goal [of CEBP] is to take out the human delay in business processes,” industry analyst Nick Lippis told InternetNews.com. Avaya’s technology, he said, “provides the development platform for making that happen.”

Central to CEBPs is the concept of presence — knowing when and how a user is available for collaboration or to receive messages.

“Presence is considered a must-have for unified communications,” said Brian Riggs, research director at Current Analysis, in a statement. “What’s needed to take presence to the next level is the ability to tap both new and existing sources of information and develop presence-aware applications that cross protocols and vendors.”

Lippis, who described Avaya’s presence technology as a “huge service,” predicts CEBP will arrive by 2011 given the technologies coming into play.

Continued on Page 2: New vertical offerings, client app and consulting services

Continued from Page 1.

New vertical offerings, client app and consulting

Along with Avaya’s Intelligent Presence server, the company also unveiled today a new slate of vertical industry UC offerings.

Those include Intelligent Branch modules for industries like banking and retail. The product line also features clients for remote offices, small business and teleworker locations, designed to simplify UC implementation and management in those environments, according to Avaya.

A focus on verticals like finance could prove lucrative for Avaya, given its deep-seated call center installed base, Lippis said.

“It’s a fascinating product and there’s a huge footprint for them,” he said, adding that small bank branches could use the UC module to sell new services and products.

“The banks can use digital signs to promote products,” he added. “Customers can get more information whether through chat, video conferencing or calling an customer rep that can provide further data. Banks offer hundreds of products that customers aren’t aware of and providing efficient communication around those services brings things to a new level.”

Avaya also expects hearty role-based application development for the modules given its 6,000-plus-developer community.

“They will provide core products, as will our partners, to build value on top of the vertical module,” said Avaya’s Mendelsohn.

The company today also debuted a new desktop client, dubbed one-X Communicator. The desktop app (or “softphone”) integrates enterprise communication technologies, including VoIP, video conferencing, presence, e-mail and IM, and supports the H.323 and SIP protocols.

Available in second quarter, one-X Communicator will also ship as part of Avaya’s Unified Communications Standard Edition suite. one-X Communicator also ties into Avaya’s two-year-old IP-based videoconferencing server, Communication Manager, which is another component of its Unified Communications suite.

To help build and integrate all these new products into enterprise networks, Avaya today also announced Unified Communications Services — an in-house consulting arm and lab for testing interoperability in customer environments.

The three-pronged service includes planning, design and integration support.

“This gives us the ability bring in all the learning and best practices we’ve acquired with other deployments to help new customers,” Mendelsohn said, adding that many enterprises’ typically hit snags in UC deployment that hinder their ability to benefit from the technology.

Such efforts could be mean one less hurdle standing in the way of what Lippis expects will be “huge” UC adoption in the near future.

“Right now we’re in an early form but one day soon we’ll go to work to find a fully-loaded softphone, and deep presence and voice communications at our desktop,” he said. “There’s no hesitancy on the part of IT to bring it in. They’ve just been waiting for the products.”

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