New Avaya cloud boss outlines strategy to make Avaya a cloud powerhouse

Mercer Rowe, newly recruited from IBM’s cloud business to put Avaya on a cutting-edge path in the cloud, laid out his plans at the Avaya ENGAGE event this week

Mercer Rowe, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Cloud Services, Avaya

NEW ORLEANS — Avaya has strengthened their focus on the cloud with a new cloud leader, running a new cloud business unit. Mercer Rowe – and his plans – was prominently featured at the Avaya ENGAGE 2018 customer event here this week, following CEO Jim Chirico in the opening keynote on Monday.

Rowe has been at Avaya for six weeks, in the new role of Senior Vice President and General Manager, Cloud Services. He had been at IBM for the last two years in senior cloud-related roles, and at VMware – again, principally in cloud roles – for seven years before that.

“When Avaya reached out to me, I asked if they had the ability to transform in the cloud,” Rowe said. “I found that this is a company that is extremely well positioned in that market. They have a great technology that is already living in the cloud, with three million seats there. They also have a great partner base and a great customer base. This is not a start-from-zero situation.”

That being said, Rowe acknowledged that while Avaya has had a cloud business, it has not had a cloud focus.

“At Avaya, it has been a long time coming, putting this degree of emphasis on cloud,” Rowe said.

Rowe said that the strategic shift has been meaningful, rather than simply a branding exercise.

“We now have a cloud business unit that reports to me,” he said. “I have R&D operations. I have marketing. I have sales. And I have the pieces to deliver cloud services,” he said. “Creating a cloud business unit means that cloud will no longer be an afterthought. Every single product in our portfolio will be developed with a cloud-first mindset. That will allow for more focus on innovation and how we deliver cloud models to customers. It will allow for more transparent partnerships with customers and partners.”

Rowe said the cloud business unit will also benefit significantly from Avaya’s restructuring and elimination of the crippling debt load that had limited its topline growth for years.

“Having the improved capital structure gives us money to invest,” he said. “It allows us to do things like buy Spoken.”

That ability to invest and the fact Avaya is aggressively investing, is one of what Rowe said is three core messages impacting on the cloud business unit

“A second is that we are changing with speed,” he said. “We are becoming a fast company.” In practical  terms, that means that they are embracing an Agile Development model, and greatly speeding up their development process.

“We will do everything in the business unit in agile development, meaning 6-8 week sprints,” Rowe said. “Customer feedback will shape the process. This is the new Avaya, and agile flexible organizations will transition to the cloud in this way from current rock-solid Avaya solutions.”

The third key message is that Avaya is simplifying their model, with simpler product families, along with the faster innovation.

“One of my big jobs is rationalization,” Rowe said. “We have a lot of brands, so we are introducing a  simplification strategy. We will get our brands aligned with function, as opposing to having products focused on contact centre and on unified communications. Over time, the idea is that we will have a few product families to scale up and down, sliced into a modern architecture.”

During his keynote, Rowe and Avaya field engineer Steve Forkum executed a demo in which a new cloud version of IP Office – which is in preview but not yet available as a product –was installed in 60 seconds. That came about because of an integration of the capabilities of IP Office and Avaya’s Zang.

“We have all these competing products,” said Corey Mindel, Channel leader at Avaya Canada. “The premise here is to take some of the value of Zang and put it into IP Office. Using the front end of Zang allows this to be installed in 60 seconds.” This will be part of the next release of IP Office, which is scheduled for the spring time frame.

Rowe said that the plan is to extend Avaya’s public cloud footprint quite quickly.

“Leveraging our acquisition of Spoken will allow us to extend our cloud footprint very rapidly,” he indicated. “Spoken runs on AWS. That will allow us to drop into AWS in a very rapid fashion.” He indicated they plan to expand beyond AWS to the other public clouds in short order.

Rowe emphasized, however, that Avaya’s cloud strategy is not just a public cloud strategy.

“It means cloudy consumption of services,” he said. ““I don’t measure success by having a certain number of seats in the cloud. Success is moving customers to a cloudy business model. Our goal is to release every product as a cloud-oriented offering first. This doesn’t mean everything goes through the cloud, but the customer should be able to purchase our products for everywhere they choose to deploy them – whether that is on- prem, colocation services, or public cloud. That’s what customers want.”

It’s also what Avaya partners want. Some traditional on-prem vendors eager to move to the cloud have been strong-arming partners to some degree, trying to encourage them to get their customers on a cloud migration path, even though many aren’t ready for the cloud – and some will never be ready.

“Our customers are mainly very large businesses, and many of them have strong security requirements,” said Rob Finucan, CEO of Ottawa-headquartered Combat Networks, a top Avaya partner with multiple awards from the vendor in their trophy case. The O.P.P [Ontario Provincial Police] and the R.C.M.P. [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] are not going to move to the cloud. We will always need an on-prem product for this kind of customer.  For many smaller customers in particular, the cloud makes a great deal of sense, but for others it never will.”