Phones a major highlight in new Avaya product releases at ENGAGE event

Avaya also rebooted their chatbot strategy with a significant deepening of their AI focus, and they have some things coming in the near future that will be of interest to partners.

NEW ORLEANS – Avaya does not appreciate being referred to as a phone vendor. The company used its Avaya ENGAGE event here this week to highlight its strategies to build market momentum now that it has completed its restructuring and left bankruptcy proceedings behind. However, their transition away from endpoints and other hardware towards a platform strategy is not something new at all, but has been underway for many years. Still, phones are still a significant part of their business, and in terms of new product that was announced at ENGAGE, one could make a credible case that a systematic refresh of their endpoint portfolio [aka phones] was the highlight. There were, however, also  a couple of imminent cloud announcements that will interest Avaya’s channel.

Avaya CEO Jim Chirico acknowledged that the relative lack of new product at this ENGAGE had its roots in the Chapter 11 proceedings that engulfed Avaya’s 2017.

“You don’t roll out new products when you are heading into Chapter 11,” he said.

Avaya did stress in their ENGAGE keynotes however, that next-generation solutions are near at hand, and that while not a lot of new product was being unveiled now, the development cycle was not slowed by the Chapter 11.

“We demonstrated that we have not missed out because of the Chapter 11,” said Jean Turgeon, VP and Chief Technologist at Avaya.

Avaya also demonstrated at the Solutions Expo some solutions that didn’t quite make it through the process in time for ENGAGE. A new cloud-based version of IP Office is one of those things. It drew an extremely positive reaction when it was presented during a demo by Mercer Rowe, Avaya’s new Senior Vice President and General Manager, Cloud Services, as part of his keynote.

“IP Office was predominantly an on-prem platform,” Turgeon said. ‘With this, we took it and cloud-enabled it from an orchestration capability. Powered By Avaya has been an option, but this leverages that capability, and uses more sophisticated orchestration tools, and will enable the partner community to spin this up. It will give partners and customers more cloud choices.”

It is not yet quite ready for release, however.

“We would have liked to have had it ready for ENGAGE, but to be fully complete, a few things still needed to be added to it,” said Mike Kuch, Senior Director for Cloud Solutions Marketing at Avaya. “Look for it in the Q2 time frame.”

The new phones, which will also be out in the Q2 time frame, were introduced in the Tuesday keynote by Karen Hardy, Vice President, Product Marketing, Avaya.

“We have sold over 100 million endpoints and we continue to ship over 10,000 a day,” Hardy said. “They are a really important part of our portfolio.”

The endpoint upgrades fall into three buckets: Essential Experience; Vantage Experience and Conferencing Experience.

The Essential changes are a complete refresh of the Avaya desktop phone line, including the J139, J169 and J179, to provide a modern user experience, including full Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity.

Kuch acknowledged that this kind of comprehensive refresh runs of the risk of consolidating that old unwanted image of Avaya as a phone company, but emphasized that the refresh was urgently needed, especially because phones do help sell platforms.

“It’s a double-edged sword, to be sure,” he stated. “However, we still have a huge attach rate of phones when we sell our platforms.  The competition refreshes their phones every 18-20 months. We hadn’t refreshed ours for a number of years. So we had to do this, even in a troublesome year for us. We had to make this a priority. Endpoints help sell systems. And customers still want endpoints. They don’t just use softphones. Customers tell us that they want these devices, and that they are an important thing for them.”

The Vantage endpoints – Avaya’s Android-based portfolio – are also being refreshed, and in addition, the portfolio is being extended downmarket for IP Office customers in the mid-market. The integration with Avaya Equinox, Avaya’s combined UC, messaging and conferencing solution, is also being enhanced. Equinox has only been available on the Aura platform since it came out in 2016, but it is scheduled to be available on IP Office as well, in the Q2 timeframe.

“We are trying to make the Equinox client as sexy as possible, and there are so many endpoints on those sales, that we wanted to find something that people will gravitate to,” Kuch said. “It was time for the Equinox phones to become new again, and the integration will also make them more Equinox-like.”

The endpoint announcement around conferencing introduces the Avaya CU-360 Collaboration Device. It is targeted at small team conferencing, using smaller spaces than a corporate conference room. The Avaya CU-360 also provides full wireless device connectivity, and cloud-based application management.

In addition to Equinox being extended to IP Office in the near future, Avaya made another enhancement to Equinox that is available now.

“Avaya Equinox Attendant is a PC-based software application that acts like an administrative assistant,” Kuch said. It improves the ability of attendants and receptionists to efficiently manage inbound calls with features like presence services, quick access to the most common destinations and suggested call routing.

“Avaya Aura has had an Attendant for decades, but there was nothing like it in Equinox before,” Kuch said. “This brings Attendant into the Equinox world.”

Avaya Equinox Meetings Online, a cloud-based meeting and conferencing service, is also being enhanced.

“A new, zero download option via webRT will expand its use,” Kuch said. “Before, this was something that was U.S.-based only. Now it is being expanded to 15 countries, including Canada.”

Avaya AVA was re-introduced as well. It gives Avaya a much more focused approach to Artificial Intelligence than it has had before, and provides a new AI architecture that includes natural language processing, machine learning and analytics.

“AVA is built in the cloud and offers a portfolio of AI capabilities,” Hardy said.  “Out of the box today, we support chatbot and messaging automation, including Facebook, WeChat and Twitter. It has built in AI mining and natural language processing and sentiment analysis, that can provide insight to  complement the customer experience portfolio that you have in your contacts centres today.”

AVA is really a reboot of Avaya’s chatbot strategy, rather than something new, although it is significantly upgraded from the simple online bot of its initial, 2014 incarnation.

“We earlier had Oceana integrations with Avaya Messaging Automation which provided basic capabilities for machine learning,” Turgeon said. “Avaya Messaging Automation didn’t get a lot of attention, however. And when the market talked about AI, the competition was giving names to their bots, and this got more attention. Thus, even though we launched a bot four years ago, it got diluted. This is a much more aggressive play that we are now making in AI.”

Looking ahead, in addition to the cloudy IP Office, partners and customers can expect something significant on the Zang front. Zang is one of Avaya’s cloud communications platforms.

“We have a great portfolio in Zang,” said Jim Chirico, Avaya’s CEO. “In the very near future, it will enable us to get very aggressive in the SMB cloud space.”

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