Greg Enright: Avaya talks big, hypes IP

A radio ad has been crossing the Toronto airwaves this fall which starts off with a crazy-sounding guy extolling the benefits of a new brand of mineral water called “Avaya.” About midway through the spot an older, calmer gentleman enters the scene and corrects the youth on his misguided interpretation of what Avaya’s business really is: networking and services.

Not a bad little attention-getter, sure to have some effect on the rush-hour-navigating IT decision makers who tend to listen to the all-talk AM stations that run it. What struck me, however, was not the clever marketing technique but the fact that Avaya, now into its third year of independence after spinning off from Lucent, is still having name-recognition difficulties.

For a company whose CEO, Don Peterson, is making bold statements of late about aiming to lead the voice-over-IP market, this basic hurdle of having potential customers know who you are appears incongruent. The question most observers are asking is, “Is Avaya a serious player in this market, with the vision and technologies to rival Cisco Systems, or is the firm an IP wannabe of which IT departments should steer clear?”

A good chunk of evidence indicates that the former is actually the case. In the first half of 2002, Avaya was the third-leading seller of IP telephony systems, owning 8.5 per cent of the market, according to International Data Corp. figures. That’s a far cry from the 35.6 per cent that Cisco enjoys, and not exactly knocking on the back door of 3Com Corp., which sits in the silver-medal position with 17.8 per cent. Nevertheless, 8.5 per cent is 8.5 per cent, and even if you’re only wearing the bronze, you’re still on the podium.

Some solid-looking technology also indicates that Avaya is on the move upward. The company recently built on its Enterprise Class IP System (ECLIPS) platform by releasing some Linux-based servers and gateways that should keep them competing for the foreseeable future.

All of this isn’t bad for a company with a name that does indeed sound like mineral water and which had to play a game of catchup against the likes of 3Com and Cisco, both of which had released their IP platforms many months before Avaya debuted ECLIPS in late 2000.

If Peterson’s posturings about becoming the IP market leader are to come true at some point down the road, though, a few important steps will have to be taken by Avaya in the coming year. It appears that they’ll have to continue to get the word out about which image “Avaya” should be associated with. And, like all players in the IP space, they’re going to have to do a darn good job of convincing customers that replacing dependable PBXes with shiny new VoIP infrastructures is necessary – a tall task in an economic climate that promises to be no more forgiving that that of 2002.