Clickbait and the Avaya feeding frenzy

Beyond speculation and comments from unnamed sources, what do we really know about Avaya's plans? Plenty that's positive ... really.

20161013 avaya stadium
Avaya

A friend I respect a great deal once told me that using Latin makes you sound smart. So, here I go, consciously throwing the term horror vacui your way.

Horror vacui is a concept originally from Aristotle that, according to Porter, ‎Park ‎and Daston, “By the thirteenth century, scholastic writers were beginning to attribute to nature … a kind of force by which nature resists allowing a vacuum to form.”

Something of this character seems to be happening as people rush to fill the void of no official news about the current business challenges Avaya faces. In absence of any real information, a narrative has evolved in the past several weeks that has not been positive.

What might be seen as a minor media feeding frenzy began the day before the United States' Thanksgiving holiday when the Wall Street Journal published the brief article Avaya Weighing Bankruptcy Filing, Sale of Call-Center Software Unit. Matt Jarzemsky quoted unnamed “people familiar with the matter” as saying bankruptcy is one of several options the company’s principal stakeholders might be considering to deal with the firm’s well-publicized financial struggles.

Since the Journal published the article, there has been a waterfall of speculation in financial and trade publications, blog posts and social media. None that I have read is any more informed than the original article. No one with any real information has come forward. Given the sensitive nature of the conversation and the regulatory and legal implications to anyone who has a fiduciary responsibility in the matter, it is logical that there wouldn’t be any real news until a plan is ready for prime time and the company issues explicit statements. Hence the vacuum.

At the risk of being called a cheerleader or worse, I’d like to paint a picture contrary to the doom and gloom of the recent headlines. There is much known about Avaya that provides observers with the opportunity for positive comment. For instance, some of the Key Avaya Facts As Of January 2016 on the company’s website state that the firm “employs more than 13,000 people worldwide,” “has approximately 9,300 channel partners worldwide,” claims the number one worldwide leadership position in nearly a half-dozen categories, and holds an intellectual property portfolio that is second to few. It also states, “Gartner places Avaya in the Leaders Quadrant based on its completeness of vision and ability to execute” in a number of categories. 

Avaya's challenges

There is no question Avaya faces significant challenges. One is that the company competes in several industries that are facing massive disruption. It is also true that Avaya is not alone. I wrote recently of disruptive challenges that Cisco faces.

Debt load is another significant challenge for Avaya. As I see it, the company has a number of possible moves to address this burden. I gave my opinion recently about one: the potential sale of the data networking business. The Journal article mentioned another: the potential sale of Avaya’s contact center business. Having worked at Avaya and being familiar with the product portfolio, I see several options related to contact center.

Avaya's contact center business

Avaya’s contact center business has multiple layers. One is its automatic call distributor (ACD) that is intimately tied to the company’s Avaya Aura Communication Manager code base. Separating the enterprise communications features from the ACD would be a challenge. Other aspects of the company’s contact center portfolio, however, are more amenable to divestiture.

There are at least three additional aspects of Avaya contact center portfolio that are more easily separated: Avaya Aura Contact Center (AACC), Avaya Interaction Center (IC) and Avaya Aura Call Center Elite Multichannel. Although optimized to work with Avaya Aura, all are omnichannel solutions that can operate independently of a company’s underlying enterprise communication architecture. AACC came to Avaya when the company acquired the assets of Nortel Enterprise Solutions. IC and Elite Multichannel are products that Avaya has nurtured for more than a decade.  

All three platforms have wide customer adoption. Each is most often tightly integrated to an enterprise’s mission-critical systems, including customer relationship management (CRM). These facts make them very marketable for several reasons.

Beyond the significant business efficiency and application value the solutions provide, once adopted, these platforms are very sticky and present high switching costs for businesses that have adopted the technologies. Another factor that makes these solutions attractive to potential buyers is that platforms generate significant professional services revenues when first implemented and across the products’ lifecycle. The proceeds from the sale of one or all of these assets could be significant and used to stave off the wrath of creditors.

My point is that Avaya has many options to continue to navigate past the shoals of the company’s challenges. Leading with words including “bankruptcy” might make a great clickbait headline, but other than being alphabetically first, I don’t see that as any more relevant than other options that the company’s management might pursue.

As Aristotle is more commonly quoted, nature might abhor a vacuum, but we don’t have to always fill that space with negativity. After all, don’t we have enough of that in our lives today? Why don’t we instead adopt the spirit of this holiday season? Let’s give Avaya the consideration of waiting to hear what the company’s leadership will say when those who do know are free to tell us the real story.

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