Q&A: Avaya's CEO on how video will change business world

Last Wednesday, Avaya, Inc. made a splash in New York City with a portfolio of new collaboration products, including the Flare Experience multimedia conferencing system, a new tablet designed to support the Flare software and the web.alive virtual reality meeting service, among other offerings. In the latest installment of the IDG Enterprise CEO Interview Series, IDGE Chief Content Officer John Gallant talked with Avaya leader Kevin Kennedy about the company's collaboration strategy, how the new products change the competitive battle with Microsoft Corp. and Cisco Systems, Inc., and what it's going to take to make video a part of everyday life for business users.

A lot of the pre-launch buzz about your announcements centered on Avaya developing a tablet in a market that already has a variety of tablet options. But that wasn't really the focus here, was it? How would you encapsulate the key news of the rollout? Today, the fact is that people buy isolated high-def video for enterprises and they probably spend $5,000-$6,000 to put that on their desks. The second fact is that most desktop video consumes a lot of bandwidth, 1.5M to 2M [bit/sec]. That's limiting for global companies that want to go to Asia, South America, and so forth. It's a boundary that can't be crossed at that level. Third, these are disparate systems, so it's hard to do things like forward an unanswered video call into voicemail. Integration is poor because [systems are] isolated.

Avaya Flare videoconferencing device
The Avaya Desktop Video Device runs the company's Flare interface. (Photo courtesy of Avaya Inc.)

Today was about accessible videoconferencing collaboration, meaning it's a lower acquisition cost and lower bandwidth, so your operating cost is less. We tried to put a fun user interface on this and we called it Flare. It's a user experience that features a lot of integration, whether it's directories from the consumer or the enterprise world, or it's making use of SIP infrastructure. So, number one is innovation; number two is execution for over a year on innovation; number three is a new set of devices that solve a real problem in the enterprise; then lastly a software experience that we can put on any device, we just happened to introduce one [the tablet] today.

You made some big claims about the improvements that this brings, one of them being a 10X productivity improvement. How do you support that? Where does that number come from? Let's walk through an audit of what it takes you to have a board call. I don't know about you, but we may all dial in, and the first thing is that everybody comes in differently because the end points have to come onto the call. That process alone can take sometimes five or ten minutes - as opposed to simply dragging a set of people from a directory into a spotlight, which takes seconds. Right off the bat we've got, call it, single-digit seconds versus double-digit seconds. Then you do a roll call in today's world, because you don't know who's actually on. Then, let's say you want to ask the two lawyers to exit so you can have a private company conversation. Then you hear a beep-beep after you've asked, they go away, then you want them to rejoin, and you call them up again. Hopefully, they get it. If they don't get it, you leave a message on their Blackberries, and then they come back in, it's beep-beep-beep, and you do a roll call. Versus swipe, bring them in, swipe, put them into a separate area, and swipe, bring them back. Literally we've done an audit and the improvements could be as much, in some cases, as 20 times faster.

What would you say are the two or three key messages you want people to take away about Avaya from this launch? Number one, innovation is important to us, and we have taken great strides in building a track record on execution for innovation. Secondly, we have aligned ourselves to new markets that are growing, video being one. Third is that we've taken a differentiated approach versus our competition: Low bandwidth versus high bandwidth; a user experience that is phenomenal; and an integrative approach versus products today that are standalone and don't have that user experience.

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