Avaya Networking Partner of the Year Combat grades vendor’s message at partner forum

Ottawa’s Combat Networks won the Networking Partner of the Year award from Avaya. The solution provider, which has a deep Avaya practice, also listened closely to the details about Avaya’s strategy and approach going forward.

Rob Finucan

Rob Finucan, Combat’s CEO

SAN DIEGO — For Combat Networks, the Ottawa-headquartered solution provider with a national presence, Avaya’s 2016 Avaya Executive Partner Forum was a notable event. The company copped the Networking Partner of the Year for the Americas International region, which includes Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America. The event was also important because Combat — like Avaya’s other premium partners at the event — was closely scrutinizing the company’s messaging going forward.

Combat, an old Nortel partner with a strong presence in the Canadian federal government space is unusual among Canadian Avaya partners on being focused more on the enterprise space than further downmarket.

“We don’t have an SMB business,” said Rob Finucan, Combat’s CEO. “Our customers have between 3,000 and 20,000 users.” In their early days, between 65 and 70 per cent of their business was federal, but changes to federal procurement policy with Shared Services Canada, along with Combat’s own expansion to offices in Quebec, southern Ontario and western Canada, have reduced the federal component to between 30 and 40 per cent. Their Avaya business is fairly evenly balanced between unified communications and fabric networking, which makes them one of the larger fabric partners in Canada.

“95 per cent of our business was originally related to Nortel, and we  even did some field service work on their behalf,” Finucan said. “We accumulated many of their Tier A customers, essentially the enterprise market Cisco didn’t have.”

Interestingly, Combat originally made the move to Avaya nine months before Avaya purchased Nortel’s enterprise business.

“When Nortel went bankrupt, we brought in other vendors to talk with them and they all said ‘rip and replace’ the Nortel PBXes with their stuff,” Finucan said. “Avaya didn’t, so we signed up immediately. They had a different view because they saw PBX as moving from the  core of the network to just a gateway with Aura.”

While Avaya is the core of Combat’s portfolio, the solution provider has kept a watchful eye on Avaya’s transition in recent years, as Avaya sought to reinvent itself around software and services, and occasionally struggled in the process.

“Some of the products they have come out with in the past, we took a pass on and they wound up being turfed,” Finucan said.

Overall, Finucan said he was pleased by Avaya’s messaging this year about their strategy and priorities.

“I’m much happier hearing what I heard this year than I was last year,” he said. “Networking is important to us because we have the 50-50 split with it being half our business. They have hired so many people in it. It’s the first big reinvestment they have made in several years. Hopefully, they bring marketing together behind this.”

Avaya’s marketing strategy this year is to highlight customer case studies, with an emphasis on the customer themselves indicating how the product helped them, and that was welcome news to Finucan’s ears.

“For me as a partner, I need to know WHY the reference customer bought it. It’s not enough just to see a name on a slide with a lot of other names as a customer.”

Finucan said that Avaya’s messaging and strategy has become more consistent, and senior leadership more responsive to comments and criticism.

“For me, it’s the accessibility and access to the executive ranks that matters,” he indicated. “A lot of that has come in the last 12-18 months, with a lot of listening from the executive team. Not all the issues are fixed yet but we are going in the right direction. Investing in our Avaya business is an easier decision this year than before.”

Finucan said he liked the direction Avaya’s networking fabric is taking, although he noted that the impressive technology case Avaya makes for it isn’t really the key issue with customers.

“My two cents is that it all works, and that’s what matters. Customers care that it will work, and that it’s 20-30 per cent less expensive.

“Another thing I liked this year is that there is a little more flexibility in the theatres, around things like the mid-market strategy,” Finucan added. “The mid-market in Canada is very different from the U.S.. They’ve pulled some stuff back into the theatre, which is good.”

Finucan has a specific suggestion of his own about another improvement Avaya could make. While he liked Avaya’s  Certified Expert-Fx certification, which came out last year to increase the number of certified techs around software-defined networking, he said it would help if that was expanded.

“We were happy to see it come out, but it is  a very high end certification,” he said. “I would like to see a lower level one that could be taken at the university level, for new grads coming out.”