Avaya gears up unified communications app server

Avaya is planning a core server with which customers and independent software vendors can easily build presence, voice and other communications modes into business applications.

SIP Application Server is software based on the platform of the same name that Avaya bought last year when it acquired Ubiquity Software.

Ubiquity had developed the platform for carriers to create new customer services, but Avaya has modified it for deployment in corporate networks, the company says.

Read more about Unified Communications

SIP Application Server, due in 2009, unifies access to shared resources such as media servers, presence servers and communications services, such as messaging and recording, says Karyn Mashima, Avaya’s Senior Vice President for Strategy and Technology, Mashima, who spoke during the company’s analyst conference this week. Developers that want to incorporate these or other features into business applications can do so by writing code to the server, and the server will draw in the other elements needed to execute them.

For example, a supply-chain application that lists vendors could be written so running a mouse over the name tells their presence status and clicking on the name calls them on the phone. The supply-chain application would interface directly with SIP Application Server, which would interact with the presence server and the call server to enable the features.

Initially, Avaya will write its own applications for SIP Application Server, but will eventually open it up to ISVs and customers, says interim CEO Charles Giancarlo.

The server parallels efforts by Microsoft with its Unified Communications Server, Cisco with its WebEx Connect, Siemens with its OpenScape Unified Communications Server and NEC’s Spherical Web Services, says Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with the Yankee Group.

“The winners of UC long-term will be those that figure out how to make UC pervasive,” Kerravala says. “How do I get presence capability into more applications, click-to-call into more applications? To me, that’s more important than the UC platforms themselves because that’s what will make UC ubiquitous.”

According to an IDC study published in August, many businesses are interested in UC, with about a quarter of those deploying it in a few branch offices, about a fifth saying they did so at a large number of sites and about a fifth saying they deployed it corporatewide.

The Avaya server is scheduled to be available next year, Giancarlo says.

The company also plans upgrades to its endpoint software in phones and softphone agents on laptops and desktops, he says. The goal is to make the endpoints function as intuitively as cell phones do and to embrace consumer tools and social networking that users understand and find useful outside the office, Giancarlo says.

For example, an incoming call to a call center might trigger a popup on an IP phone that shows the Facebook or Linked-in profile of the caller, Mashima says.

Avaya customers can expect some changes in the way the company interacts with them as well, Giancarlo says. Traditionally, PBX vendors went through the telecom manager and later IP PBX vendors approached the IT directors with their wares.

That will continue, but Avaya also will bring in users from customer business units, he says. The idea is to better understand what business tasks customers are trying to perform and to facilitate them via the UC platform. “No other vendor is fully focused on individual users, department managers or division heads,” he says.

Avaya also is shifting its sales model to make more use of its channel partners to install products that customers buy. The aim is to have 85% or more of customers handled by channel partners, says Todd Abbott, a senior vice president of sales and the president of field operations for the company.

The company has set a goal to make more customer interactions self-service, so people buying software or upgrading existing software can do so online.

Giancarlo says Avaya and Cisco are the two UC vendors financially stable enough to weather the current economic problems well, and Avaya will actually benefit from them. “I think it’s a great opportunity. During a downturn is when marketshare changes happen, and I think this is our time to pick up marketshare,” he says.

Avaya had US$5.2 billion in revenues during the fiscal year that ended Oct. 1 and has $677 million cash on hand, he says. “Cash is good leverage to have going into ’09,” Giancarlo says.

The company has sorted through possible permanent CEOs to replace Giancarlo, who stepped in after former CEO Lou D’Ambrosio stepped down for health reasons last June.

He says the company has narrowed the field to a select group of well-qualified candidates and will announce its choice early next year.

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