Avaya Engage took place last week. I was only able to attend for about 27 hours, yet left impressed.
I arrived pre-event on Super Sunday. Avaya rented Chase Field, home of the Arizona DiamondBacks Major League Baseball team for its Super Bowl party. Engage usually starts with a big reception in a convention center, so I’ll just say that MLB stadiums are funner and this one had some good food. The party mostly took place on the field, but there were some suites open too. It was a nice touch that in the suites, it could be seen that the DiamonBacks use Avaya phones. Avaya execs were present and accessible. CEO Jim Chirico was the most relaxed I’ve ever seen him.
After the game, I went out with a small group including the new Chief Product Officer Anthony Bartolo. Anthony has a range of responsibilities, but all eyes are on the new CCaaS. Bartolo developed a major UC business (working very closely with MS and Cisco) at Tata, and also has a strong background in mobility (think Avaya Mobile Experience). He is very focused on customer journey mapping. He knows customers want to move to the cloud, but believes many are confused about why.
Bartolo, like many other Chirico hires, previously worked at Avaya. So far, the re-hire approach to building a new Avaya hasn’t worked well — most have re-departed. However, Bartolo seems different. He brings a fresh perspective and relevant track record, and appears to have a genuine desire to accelerate Avaya’s transition to being more flexible, transparent, and open. His focus on Journey Mapping should assist partners in their efforts to better understand customer goals and processes.
Monday kicked off with keynotes. Of course we had the expected appearances from CEO Chirico and NA Sales Leader Ciccone, and there were some new members to the Engage Keynote club including: CMO Harrison; Vlad, the CEO of RingCentral; and a presentation from Drew Kraus of Gartner.
The big news was Avaya Cloud Office (ACO) by RingCentral. The partnership was announced about 3 months ago, and Engage offered dealers and partners a preview. What we saw was RingCentral Office with an Avaya logo. Three months just isn’t enough to differentiate the offer. ACO will change more by EC20, and continue to evolve throughout the year. The previews showed ACO working on Avaya phones, but many of the features and details are still being developed.
That’s not to suggest ACO isn’t a robust offer. Being based on a market leading UCaaS offer is far better than anything Avaya could have developed internally anytime soon (sorry Gaurav). RingCentral offers more than 200 pre-built integrations with cloud applications such O365, G Suite, and Salesforce, so users have lots of options.
Avaya Engage 2020 didn’t have very many new announcements. It was really more of a launch or relaunch of solutions and leadership changes as the company revamps and solidifies its GTM. Avaya Spaces got a lot of attention as team features continue to rise in importance. Not only are team chat and meetings features increasingly expected, but their absence have been revenue leaks. Spaces integrates voice, video, screen sharing, task management, and more with aggressive pricing.
For customers that use a different solution for Team Chat, Avaya offers Onespace. I think this is a pretty clever approach to unifying disparate communications. Onespace also works in a pure Avaya solution. It’s a web front-end to communications and calendaring. ReadyNow also got some good attention at Engage. It’s a pre-packaged, private cloud for UC and/or CC. It takes the effort (and Capex) out of private cloud. ReadyNow was launched at Engage a year ago, and it has developed into a very comprehensive and strategic solution.
No Comms event in 2020 would be complete without AI. Avaya has several AIrons in the fire, but Afiniti got most of the glory at Engage. Avaya announced a revamped AI Routing called AiRo by Afiniti. Unicorn Afiniti seems to have its future tied to Avaya since Genesys reconsidered partnership and chose to compete instead. Afiniti AiRo identifies subtle patterns to route customers to agents in a way that optimizes outcomes without breaking the best agents.
According to Sheila, this new c0-branded AIRo solution has two key advantages for customers. She said that “it will aid in driving broader adoption of AI routing as customers will be able to choose the optimization metric that best suits their business and it can be deployed in contact centers with as few as 30 agents in a queue.”
The new CMO Simon Harrison and Gartner Analyst Drew Kraus emphasized the importance of multiexperience. Few industry CMOs are so aligned with Gartner, but then Simon and Drew were colleagues at Gartner until a few weeks ago. Multiexperience is about designing and developing seamless experiences across touch-points. Drew emphasized that multiexperience is not the same as multichannel or omnichannel,. He said “it’s time to stop thinking about omnichannel, and to start doing multiexperience.” I’m All In for retiring Omnichannel as it’s been the contact center priority for too long. Customers don’t think about what “channel” they are in, they just want to get things done, and select the best modality for a given time, place, and situation.
In the afternoon I was invited to participate in a panel during Jon Brinton’s Partner Forum.
The shift to OpEx is more than adding a new item to the menu, it can be very disruptive — especially to business partners that built their businesses around CapEx. Avaya has a lot of work to do to assist its partners in this transition. Avaya does about 80% of its business though channel partners (not changing), and a major portion of its products are still sold under perpetual licensing models (changing). There’s still lots of reasons to spend CapEx on comms, but it’s no longer a requirement. Avaya is now offering OpEx models on core licensing, endpoints, and adding subscription services that can supplement private (private cloud and premises-based) implementations (such as Spaces).
“We want partners and customers to know that we have a lot of flexibility in how they consume our applications,” Karen Hardy, vice president of product marketing said. In this panel, we attempted to highlight some of the emerging opportunities for the channel.
Probably because I deal with so many CMOs and analysts, the number one question I’ve received regarding Engage is CMO Simon? Like many other others, I was surprised by the announcement, but I’ve come to realize it’s a really good move for both parties. I think Simon wanted a change. He really does have a passion for this stuff, and (I know) it can be frustrating to be the commentator on the sidelines. Simon has a marketing background, and he knows the space including the competition and customer trends. Like many analysts, Simon is a storyteller. He connects the dots into a story that reveals larger meanings.
Avaya has maintained an engineering-first approach to communications, but (for many) has lacked a clearly articulated vision. Avaya has also, coincidentally, lacked a CMO and CTO. I believe with the additions of Harrison and Bartolo that this will change in 2020. Both of them spoke to me about the customer journey — not from a traditional marketing/capture perspective, but from a facilitation and vision perspective. Simon is particularly excited about the transition to multiexperience, a relatively new concept that many customers don’t yet appreciate.
It was at the end of Day one (Monday night) that I was able to catch Simon between commitments. I did a quick informal video in the noisy hotel lobby to capture and share some of his thinking.
I can say that I will miss Simon as an analyst. We managed to get some touristy stuff in during our prior Engages in New Orleans and Austin, and I’ve always enjoyed his perspective on enterprise comms. I think he is well suited and prepared for this new adventure, and I wish him the best of luck.