Private Avaya must make some public noise

Upon hearing recently that networking company Avaya Communication is becoming a private company, the thought did occur that perhaps there would finally be an infusion of aggressive competitiveness in what has become a dull, dull company.

Public ownership, among other things, can do that to an organization. Big old companies operate too cautiously, move too slowly towards change, and all too readily accept a decline in status without putting up much of a fight. It’s why, in my opinion, the network communications equipment industry in general has become a wasteland outside of Cisco Systems. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Cisco keeps fighting and has parlayed disaster in the networking equipment business at the turn of the century into unparalleled dominance. Seems most of the competition — if you want to call them that — weren’t nearly as determined. Most continue to stumble and fumble (think Nortel, 3Com and Enterasys) or they are content to lay low and scurry for the few scraps of business that Cisco doesn’t own or care about.

It’s a lousy situation for buyers. Goodness knows enterprise customers could use a viable second choice, at the very least to believably suggest to Cisco that they can do business elsewhere.

Will that choice be Avaya, at least in the VoIP/unified communications space? I was excited to hear that Avaya was now in private hands. It suggested to me that the company has an opportunity to be dynamic, to operate in a much more nimble and energetic way. Avaya, like most other network equipment makers, seems almost invisible. Perhaps without the constraint of shareholders, Avaya can move more quickly and make a lot more noise. Its first challenge should be to aggressively and loudly promote its brand, its technology and redefine its value proposition.

I recently spoke with Canada country manager Mario Belanger, to ask whether such an approach is immenent as a result of new private ownership. I was somewhat disappointed to hear that there’s no announced new market strategy, at least not yet. Belanger admits the company is pretty much the same today as it was prior to the private acquisition. That’s fair. Change does take time, so let’s give Avaya a chance to turn the ship and set a course.

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The hope is that Avaya takes on a determination to become an assertive and viable market alternative. The space between the top network equipment maker in Canada and No. 2 is wide and getting wider. Avaya has an opportunity to make a significant move up. But like any good No. 2 player, they need to try harder.

Can Microsoft speak reliably in the unified communications space?

Would you buy a unified communications solution from Microsoft Corp.?

If the product is anything like the operating system software the company sells, then most definitely not. Unified communications (UC) isn’t something to invest in without some rock-solid guarantees of performance and reliability. There’s no, “we’ll work out the kinks as we go,” with this sort of application. It’s not Windows. It has to work — all the time. There’s nothing more important to a business than its ability to communicate.

I’m definitely watching to see how Microsoft fares in this market, with its recently announced Office Communications Server 2007 that provides VoIP, video, instant messaging, conference and presence under a unified communications banner. On one hand, Microsoft’s entry gives a strong shot of legitimacy to a still emerging IT concept. Dare I say that UC becomes an almost mainstream application?

But Microsoft has its work cut out to become a leader in this space. Most of the big network equipment makers, like Cisco, Nortel and Avaya, have had UC products available for at least five years or more. These are mature and proven offerings. Microsoft brings to the market some pretty basic UC capabilities by comparison, which in truth can’t really compete with the functionality of the others on the market. But Microsoft also brings mass market penetration and a focus on consumers and smaller business, which has the potential to drive UC boldly into places where none have gone before.

And, if you believe customers like CNIB, Office Communications Server 2007 is a breeze to install and manage. They rave about it and that alone makes it compelling and worth further investigation.

But there are a number of key questions: Can Microsoft build an UC solution that’s reliable enough? How functionally rich can Office Communications Server 2007 become? Can it ever achieve enterprise scale? Can Microsoft gain credibility in this key application space? Would you buy a UC solution from them?

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