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Avaya Executive Interview

Mercer Rowe, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Cloud Services, Avaya

Avaya Leverages Its History and Vast Installed Base to Build Business in the Cloud

Ever since it was spun off as a separate company from ATT spinoff Lucent Technologies in 2000, Avaya has been a household word in the contact center space. The 2001 introduction of the Avaya Interaction Center for customer relationship management (CRM) provided a software solution that enabled businesses to transform multi-platform call centers into multimedia, multi-site contact centers. The company pioneered the concept of “converged communications” the following year, evolving to unified communication (UC). Over the following years, Avaya introduced numerous solutions that contributed to improving the customer experience and enhancing agent productivity.

Avaya had always been acknowledged as a company that focused on hosted and on-premise solutions for contact center operations. But the company has taken resolute steps to solidify its status as a provider of cloud solutions.

At the end of 2017, they brought on board Mercer Rowe, a respected technology executive with a strong background in cloud platform business development at VMWare and IBM Watson Then, in early 2018, Avaya acquired Spoken Communications, a specialist in Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) solutions and customer experience management applications built on conversational artificial intelligence. The Spoken platform provides a highly scalable and reliable cloud platform for businesses of all sizes and immediately strengthens Avaya’s ability to effectively compete in this arena.

Rowe, whose title at Avaya is Senior Vice President and General Manager of Cloud Services, believes that Avaya’s long history as a leader in the communications/contact center space puts them in a unique position to make a successful transition. “It’s less about whether we provide solutions in a public or private cloud environment: it’s moving from being an infrastructure company to a communications platform provider,” he noted. “We have a large installed base which gives us an advantage with customers who already know what it’s like to work with us. For these businesses, the decision to move from on an on-prem solution to the cloud is always about economics, but not necessarily purely about cost. Most take the step when there’s a compelling reason that involves a need to expand capabilities, such as adding agility or delivering omnichannel service. Of course, in some cases, the realization that their legacy technology is nearing end of life and can no longer be maintained cost-effectively also plays a role.”

Whether in a public, private or hybrid deployment model, cloud solutions enable businesses to incrementally add functionality. “For example, AI offers access to data that helps companies to compete. They can add AI to call transcription and to enhance the mobile experience. Or they can add something like Identity verification as a service with 2-factor authentication. They can customize applications for BYOD and deliver standards-based endpoint support. Multi-tenant capabilities enable businesses to optimize their infrastructure for their entire customer base. They can build an ecosystem around our platform.”

While security is no longer the major obstacle that it formerly was in migrations, some companies that are sensitive to GDPR requirements and other compliance issues may gravitate to private as opposed to public cloud deployment. “For many large enterprise companies, the major issue is ‘how fast can we make the move?’” said Rowe. He also observed that “voice is hard: connectivity can be a huge issue with network architecture often out of control in global regions.” This may explain why some large clients like BPOs are moving groups of 100 agents or more to the cloud at a time.

Some of the obstacles he still encounters to making the move are in businesses with large embedded staffs of telecom engineers who feel that moving will deprive them of opportunities for customization and result in loss of perceived control. “I had one potential contact center customer who told me that she thought her team was colluding to keep her out of the cloud,” said Rowe. “Some engineers feel threatened that they are losing control when they can’t just move cables around and rack up gear: one guy even asked what they would do with all the empty racks if infrastructure wasn’t maintained on premise. But after the migration is complete, they can be upskilled to better integrate CRM, WFO and other adjacent services into the system.”

He noted that Avaya sales personnel are now being trained in what he termed making a “challenger sale,” in which they ask companies who think it’s important to hold on to existing systems and procedures “why do you need that?” He sees it as their job to understand needs on a customer-by-customer basis and show businesses how to make changes to do things better.

To expedite the sales process of Avaya cloud solutions, the company launched a Master Agent program in March 2018 to connect potential customers with Avaya. The program was designed to address the increasing demand while simplifying the process of onboarding, deploying and managing customer communications with support provided directly by Avaya,

Jenne, an Avaya distributor, was the first Avaya Cloud Master Agent, followed by Intelisys and most recently by Telarus, the largest privately-held technology services distributor in the U.S.

Rowe feels that those who criticized Avaya for being slow in cloudifying their core technology missed the point. “The reality is that we are now delivering a new generation of CX technology to the market when companies need it more than ever before.”