Interview: Avaya’s Alan Baratz on UC

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Originally posted on NoJitter.com,  Sep 5, 2011

Doing interviews for No Jitter is an incredible opportunity, as I get the opportunity to meet with the movers and shakers of the industry. This time, Dr. Alan Baratz of Avaya. Dr. Baratz currently carries the title senior vice president, and president of Avaya Global Communications Solutions (GCS). His organization includes three of the company’s strategic business units: Unified Communications, Contact Center, and Small/Medium Enterprise Communications.Prior to Avaya, Dr. Baratz was the Senior Vice President for Cisco’s Network Software and Systems Technology Group. And before that, he served as President of Sun Microsystems’ Software division, with responsibility for all of Sun’s software products as well as software sales and marketing. He also held leadership positions at IBM and served as CEO of several information technology startups.Dr. Baratz holds both a doctorate and a master’s degree in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and computer science from UCLA.Alan is a great presenter. I’ve had the benefit of hearing a few of his presentations, so some of these questions came from those and the rest are aimed at Avaya in general.
DM: SIP seems central to Avaya’s strategy and its positioning, yet SIP is widely supported in the industry. How is Avaya’s vision of SIP different?
AB: SIP is widely supported by the industry, yet we are one of the few UC providers that can deliver a single infrastructure that supports all the modes of communication accessed through a truly integrated end user client–including voice, video and real-time data. This is an important differentiation. We are leveraging SIP for integrating voice, video and real-time data, as well as to separate control from media. This will bring to bear a whole new set of capabilities that enable technology to conform to users instead of the other way around. With the Avaya Aura implementation of SIP, it is much easier to control communications using whatever device you want to use for control, but then leverage the most optimal media infrastructure available where you are. For example, if you have a very high quality speakerphone in your office, you can set up the call on your Avaya Desktop Video Device (ADVD) or your PC and, say, send it over to that device. This requires the ability to control with one device, and place media on another device. You’re going to see us leverage this significantly across our product line. Cross control is an area that we think is actually going to be quite compelling as we look to the future.

From a contact center perspective, the ability to create and hold a single session throughout the entire collaboration with the client is unique to Avaya Aura Contact Center. Other solutions attempt to solve the problem with integration, but where that breaks down is in the inability to support the evolution from routing to matching. Imagine this use case–I contact any service provider and start a chat. They can’t resolve my issue without using different media so I am offered click-to-call to be transferred to an agent. This is best in class today. In the future, the session-based architecture enables a seamless change-out to the most optimal modality choice for the company while preserving the chosen modality of the customer. Moreover, the context information, i.e. buying history, demographics, social media interactions, helps ensure the session matches the customer in order to create a superior buying experience at the lowest possible cost.

DM: In terms of collaboration, what does Avaya mean by “People First” Collaboration?
AB: Most collaboration tools today are document-centric. They are based on document sharing as the fundamental starting point, whether it is WebEx, Go to Meeting, or SharePoint. The problem is they lose sight of the fact that collaboration is all about people. It is about getting the right people together with the right information in an environment that allows them to solve a critical business problem. Document sharing is only a very small part of it. We facilitate getting the people together along with the information they need to get the job done–which ultimately, should also be device-, network- and location-agnostic.

DM: Regarding the cloud, do you see separate strategies for Avaya’s application and infrastructure products? Will there be more hosted offerings such as web.alive?
AB: We think there is opportunity for infrastructure together with applications to be hosted, as well as infrastructure on premise along with hosted applications. The approach depends on the segment of the market and whether the economics are attractive to all constituents: customer, service provider, and Avaya. We have done a careful analysis and understand where the two models make the most sense and will be bringing products to market that support that. A rough general statement is both models are attractive for small to medium enterprises, and large enterprises benefit from a premise-based infrastructure. Private cloud is applicable across all segments. What we mean by private cloud is using cloud-based technologies such as virtualization in a premises-based environment.In addition to Avaya web.alive, Avaya Client Services offers hosted unified communications and contact center services in a utility mode. Our vision is to create a compelling set of offerings designed specifically for different customer segments whether it is premises-based, hosted, or a hybrid model. We know that one size does not fit all when it comes to deployment models, and we will deliver new offerings where it makes sense to do that.
DM: What do you mean by “Aura’s communications fabric?”
AB: “Fabric” is typically used by the technical community to refer to an underlying connectivity infrastructure. “UC” is about an integrated multi-modal communications and collaboration environment. For Avaya, Unified Communications is bringing together all the modes of communications into an environment that’s efficient, effective and fun for the user. It is allowing any one mode to be as easy to use as the other. This means simple promotion from one mode to another such as IM to voice and voice to video. It is about enabling sidebar conversations between a subset of participants during a larger conference session. It’s about enabling services built for one mode of communication to be used by another mode. For example, voice messaging built in the voice world would apply to video so a video call not received by the contacted party rolls over to the message store.
DM: Does the Avaya Desktop Video Device, with an OS and multiple applications, represent the future direction of new Avaya endpoints?
AB: Avaya Flare represents the user experience for Avaya’s real-time Unified Communications and Collaboration solutions. And yes, our goal is for Avaya Flare to be deployed and available across all devices that get services from Avaya Aura, whether they are Avaya or non-Avaya devices. Avaya Flare is the Avaya user experience for UCC.
DM: Will traditional phones be replaced with a smartphone paradigm on the desktop or is the phone here to stay?
AB: We did some research a year ago to ask the very same question. Office workers typically have three devices: a phone, a PC, and a mobile device. What we found was that IT was looking to consolidate down to two. It also became very clear that users want a communications device in their office that is always on, delivers a high quality audio experience, and is reliable. Until the industry solves the problem of “let me call you back from my land line”, the phone is here to stay. The office of the future includes the “phone”, but not the way you think about it today. It will be a communication device that works in conjunction with your other devices that will deliver a user-centric, multi-modal experience.

DM: The UCIF is a collection of competitors working to improve the state of UC interoperability. Avaya and Cisco are the market leaders, and neither has joined the effort, which puts it in peril. As a firm committed to open standards, why hasn’t Avaya joined the UCIF?
AB: Avaya systems and solutions are some of the most open in the industry. We continually strive to embrace and implement open standards. We ensure that our products have well-defined and well-published APIs for interoperability. We have a DevConnect program that allows third parties to gain access and test for interoperability and create new solutions for customers. We are already working with a number of folks who have joined UCIF. And, quite frankly, there are other important companies in the UCC space that are not members. If this becomes an important vehicle for standards and interoperability we will get involved. Right now we don’t see it as a primary vehicle vs. other standards bodies and programs for supporting open APIs and interoperability.

DM: Isn’t there a risk that products like Social Media Manager will encourage customers to act out on social networks to get better customer service rather than proper, more private channels?
AB: Social media is just another channel that’s available in the customer support environment. It will neither replace live agents nor the need to get access to experts to solve a problem. Traditional vehicles will continue to be important for a company to manage customer satisfaction and brand strength; however, peer-to-peer and self-help relative to being able to search the social media environment can be very powerful vehicles for customer relationship management in an enterprise environment. Our goal is to make sure that all channels are available in a well integrated fashion so that companies are able to leverage as much or as little as they want in addition to actually directing the use of the social media environment to ensure a positive outcome for their customers.

The bottom line is it is another important channel, but just another channel. You don’t want to allow it to be used in an unmonitored fashion. You want it to be integrated into the full CRM environment as another channel but well monitored and managed. We provide that capability.

Dave Michels