Analysts question Avaya’s IP killer app definition

Avaya Inc. insists that IP telephony does have a “killer app,” although industry observers wonder if the network technology vendor is on the mark.

According to Mack Leathurby, Avaya’s director of product portfolio marketing, IP telephony’s central attribute is its ability to create the “collaborative enterprise,” an organization that uses packet-switched technology to become more productive and gain an edge over competitors.

In Leathurby’s definition, the collaborative enterprise employs unified messaging, mobile extensions from the corporate PBX, and applications such as Avaya’s Meet Me conferencing, to create a competitive advantage.

“It’s more than saying I can do moves, adds and changes,” Leathurby said during a meeting this month with partners and the press at Avaya Canada’s new executive briefing centre in Markham, Ont. He was referring to IP telephony’s promise of less-expensive administrative tasks compared to traditional communication platforms. “What I’m saying is the killer app is the collaborative enterprise.”

Leathurby’s contention left industry analysts at Avaya’s meeting wondering if his killer app definition rings true.

“I don’t think we’ve seen the killer application,” said Dan McLean an analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto. He opined that Avaya was “playing it safe” with its definition, that the collaborative enterprise seems based on tactical programs like unified messaging and mobile connectivity, but doesn’t provide the strategic transformation that more bullish IP telephony proponents expect.

Ronald Gruia, a Toronto-based Frost & Sullivan analyst, said Leathurby went too far, trying to pinpoint IP’s defining characteristic. He figures IP’s killer app depends on the customer, and the industry in which it operates. Wireless voice over IP might be the killer app for health care. Cellular connections to the PBX might speak to sales people at a car dealership. The collaborative enterprise looks and feels different across myriad sectors.

“There’s going to be a few” definitions of the supreme application, Gruia said, “and the market will dictate.”

But Leathurby’s definition seemed to work for one Avaya customer. BMW Canada Inc., an automotive manufacturer in Whitby, Ont., uses an IP-enabled Definity PBX to support communication at the HQ, and an S8300 media server for communication at its dealership in Toronto. The T.O. system has Avaya’s Extension to Cellular application turned on, so if a salesperson isn’t at his desk, calls ring through to his mobile handset.

According to Diane Cope, BMW’s IS manager, and Katherine Woolsey, the firm’s telecommunications coordinator, the company was sold not only on IP’s simple architecture (one cable infrastructure for voice and data), but also on the productivity-enhancing applications that it supports. “The combination of all the possible things we could do,” Cope said, “we could see the potential.”

She said Avaya won the contract in part because it didn’t expect BMW to replace the existing Definity in Whitby, but offered technology that would IP-enable the legacy equipment. Even if BMW hasn’t turned on all of the IP functions, “we know it’s there,” Cope said, explaining that the firm is making a slow migration to IP. BMW still uses traditional handsets, rather than IP phones in Whitby, for instance. The IP-enabled Definity works with the older equipment.

That’s another message from Avaya: its wares support deliberate transitions from old-fashioned telephony to IP. Mario Belanger, Avaya Canada’s president, said the vendor eschews the notion that IP spells a forklift upgrade. Avaya can prep existing systems for IP and let clients decide when it’s time to replace the digital handsets at desks and crank up advanced applications.

The firm talked about some of its future plans at the Markham meeting. John Papadakis, senior vice-president of global services, said Avaya is working closely with Canadian carriers, and those relationships could yield something of a business-class, hosted service based on the vendor’s Modular Messaging product.

It’s a good move for Avaya, said Roberta Fox, president of Fox Group Consulting in Markham. She said carriers seek partners to bring value-added services into their communication portfolios, and it couldn’t hurt Avaya to add a new sales channel.

“This is the first time I’ve heard both sides of the industry say this is where they want to be.”

Avaya reps also said the company will unveil a new SIP-enabled softphone in the coming weeks. This device, an app that essentially turns a PC into a phone, should support smart routing features that allow calls to find or follow the user through various programs like e-mail and instant messaging.

One of Avaya’s key competitors in the IP telephony space postulated that in fact there won’t be a so-called killer app for the technology. Instead, users can expect “several very lethal [apps], usually centered around vertical markets where rapid innovation, customization and competitive differentiation are becoming increasingly important,” said Don Proctor, vice-president of Cisco’s voice technology group. He was speaking at the network gear maker’s Innovation Through Convergence Expo in Santa Clara, Calif. last fall.

— With files from Greg Enright