The market for Unified Communications & Collaboration and ContactCenter (UC&CC) solutions is undergoing major changes. Customers want more open integrated solutions and the demand for cloud-based solutions is also increasing. UC&CC specialist Avaya also has to take this step and is increasingly transforming itself into an open software and cloud-focused supplier with a complete customer focus. Techzine talked about the developments with Vice President Europe Andrea Ragazzi and Managing Director Netherlands Ronald Hoeijenbos.

It has not been quiet around Avaya in recent years. The UC&CC specialist was in a difficult period in 2017, including a Chapter-11 situation in 2017. This resulted, among other things, in the sale of its network manufacturing activities to Extreme Networks in the United States.

However, the UC&CC player seems to have found its way back up again in recent years. It has continued to maintain its position as one of the four most important UC&CC suppliers, alongside Microsoft and Cisco and its closest competitor Mitel.

Avaya’s most important starting point in this respect is its focus on its customers, both in the large business segment and in smaller companies. For the supplier, it is especially important that its products and services adapt well to the wishes of customers.

Basic terms and conditions of customers

In concrete terms, customers have a number of basic requirements that they set for their UC&CC environment, says Ragazzi. Voice is still the most important tool for (large business) customers to interact with their own customers. They also see that ease of use in contact with their customers is becoming more important. This means that new technology – and especially multichannel contact – must be able to take place without problems for them.

Another important requirement of customers is that they still consider voice and direct contact with employees to be the most important of all possible contact possibilities. Multichannel contact options are interesting for them, but they find that good channel switching in a conversation with customers still causes problems. In addition, they are often still not satisfied with the now available possibilities around artificial intelligence. For many end-users of UC&CC services, these are not yet sufficient.

Finally, customers want UC&CC applications to enable them to increase employee productivity, especially when it comes to better interaction with the data the organisation has available, and improving customer contact. Here, too, they want better technology than is currently available.

Open API environment most important

In order to meet all these customer needs, Avaya has decided to focus on a number of key objectives. According to Ragazzi, the most important of these is that Avaya now opens up all its solutions and applications to other parties and partners.

Not only can Avaya ensure that customers in the digital field are completely relieved of their worries, but it can also make a significant contribution to the development of the company’s business. Avaya can do this in its own area. For other matters that are important in the area of customer contact, such as CRM, it would be better to leave this to other specialists, such as Oracle or Salesforce. By working intensively with partners, it should be possible for the solutions and applications in question to answer the questions that customers have. Open solutions are, therefore, necessary.

In turn, these customers will be able to adapt (technological) things to their needs or reuse existing equipment. This is because they have already invested a lot in these solutions and applications in the past, and Avaya does not want to force them to change all this. Moreover, Avaya does not want to provide a vendor lock-in. Therefore, the supplier is increasingly getting an ‘API mindset’.

The emergence of the cloud leads to new models

Not only the integration of one’s own products and opening them up is important for the UC&CC supplier. It goes without saying that the rise of the cloud for the roll-out of the various solutions and applications is also taking an increasingly prominent place.

Avaya sees that the demand for cloud-based UC&CC solutions and applications is growing rapidly. This means that the supplier must adapt its technology to this and also invest in it. Think of the whole trend around containers. Hoeijenbos indicates that the portfolio should be able to cope with this in the future. Not only with technology but also with the models for rollout.

More specifically, Avaya is ensuring that its cloud-based communication solutions and services are now available via private, hybrid and public cloud environments such as AWS and Google Cloud Platform. These include services such as Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS), Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) and the total solution Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS).

Cloud services and Avaya

Avaya takes care of the complete hosting and service for public cloud services. Customers can purchase these services directly and are not only available to large business customers. Smaller companies, up to 20 end users, can also benefit from this. For the latter segment, the specialist rolled out his Avaya OneCloud cloud solution with a silent drum at the end of last year. In addition to its home market in the United States, this service has recently also become available in Germany. The rest of Europe, including the Benelux region, will follow shortly. Partners can also provide these services.

Private cloud environments

Avaya also offers its solutions and services for private cloud environments. This is because the company has found that many companies still want to have their own environments. The cloud-based portfolio is offered as private cloud environments in their own data centres.

The UC&CC specialist, therefore, hosts the solutions itself and offers a number of basic services. Within the partner ecosystem, partners offer services with added value. These services must then bring the functional requirements of the customers for the solutions, in combination with the actual implementation of these solutions.

Commitment to customized solutions

Under the OneCloud ReadyNow label, Avaya can also deliver customized solutions. Especially for those customers who come from their own on-premise UC&CC solution and do not want to switch directly to one of the cloud-based models. They want something in between.

Avaya offers its standard solutions for this, which can be specially adapted to suit your needs. According to Hoeijenbos, this customization is actually ‘standard’ because many customers notice that the standard version of Avaya’s platform needs to be expanded at some point and then encounter a limitation.

Voice remains dominant everywhere

When asked what else is important for Avaya – besides open solutions and applications and the cloud – to continue to meet customer requirements, Ragazzi responds with innovative solutions. Innovation should enable customers to grow and focus on their core business. In his view, it is very important that the back office ensures that the final ‘customer journey’ runs smoothly.

For the development of these innovative solutions, it is important to know that voice is still the dominant contact channel for customers. This functionality should always be good and should always be kept in mind when introducing new applications.

No compulsion to accept new technology

Avaya, as Ragazzi makes clear, is not going to force its customers to embrace the latest technological applications. Avaya wants to offer its customers new technology at their own pace. This means, for example, that in the field of artificial intelligence, a combination with voice will come on stream, but that it will become a more natural part of the overall development of the various UC&CC solutions. It’s not something that needs to be ‘done’ now because it needs to be.

The VP of Europe does expect people to be ready to interact with artificial intelligence. For example, he also puts interaction with an intelligent voice system such as Alexa or Siri under voice, especially when it comes to simple subjects. According to Ragazzi, customers often want to switch to human interaction for more in-depth conversations. He does expect future generations to deal with this differently.

The UC&CC specialist is therefore busy preparing for the combination of voice and artificial intelligence, but does this step by step and only when his customers request it.

Security and privacy leadership

In the area of security and privacy, the UC&CC specialist is also busy with developments and taking responsibility in this area. Avaya said that it was the first company in this market segment that could call itself completely GDPR-compliant. Furthermore, the company continues to work on the security of its products and services, also because the customers naturally expect and want this.

This also ensures that all new products and services from the UC&CC specialist ‘by design’ meet the latest security and privacy standards, Hoeijenbos adds. Companies decide for themselves how to handle their data safely and where to store it, but Ayaya has to make sure that this is done safely through its platform. Avaya wants to use the right technology to help its customers how they can best use the data from their customer contact in a safe way. In addition, it develops guidelines that can help customers to apply better security and privacy. It also brings its customers together so that they can learn from each other in these areas.

Exciting future

Avaya, too, seems to be unable to escape the current trend of the cloud, with the hybrid cloud in particular. The advent of public, private and hybrid roll-out models, with or without a substantial dose of customisation, shows this. The UC&CC specialist’s attention to open solutions, APIs, artificial intelligence, security and an extensive partner ecosystem is also ‘on par’ with the rest of the IT industry.

But whether this is enough for Avaya to remain at the forefront of UC&CC solutions is difficult to assess. The company wants to do fully what its customers want and not impose anything on them. A noble initiative, but what if the same customers want to go faster than Avaya itself? Then they go somewhere else to seek their salvation.

The constant stream of rumours about a possible sale or takeover does not contribute to this either. Nevertheless, at the moment, Avaya still stands as a house and is clearly busy with the transition to the future. We are therefore very curious what it will look like for Avaya.