IP solutions for all: How Latin American SMEs tap into the benefits

Friday, May 27, 2011

IP collaboration systems vendor Avaya marked a major milestone last week with the announcement that its SME solution IP Office 7.0 is completely compatible with hardware designed for Nortel's Business Communications Manager (BCM) platform.

The company also announced several enhancements compared to previous versions of IP Office, which are also available to former Nortel clients, not to mention the capital saved by not having to replace handsets and other hardware.

Among the Avaya executives interviewed by BNamericas in relation to the announcement was Phil Larson, SME solutions manager for the CALA region.

BNamericas: Is this SME segment push more about strengthening your position against other suppliers, or is it still a case of evangelizing about UC [unified communications] solutions in the first place?

Larson: I think a lot of Latin American SMEs do already understand what UC is, because they're using things like IM and presence over public platforms like Skype.

Our message, then, is that all the UC features that large corporations use are deliverable in a platform that is accessible to SMEs. The focus has shifted from explaining "what" UC is, to "UC is available for you in a package that's easy to install and maintain." We're addressing the misconception that sophisticated UC platforms are reserved for large companies.

BNamericas: As you say, many are familiar with the concepts - they've already made something of a leap to IP. So how much difference are they going to notice if they migrate from a piecemeal setup to a more complete system like IP Office?

Larson: There are indeed some more advanced, tech-savvy SMEs that can cobble together those different features and services, and train all of their employees to use them in a productive manner. But I don't feel that that represents the vast majority of the market.

It's technically feasible, but most are not going to dedicate the time to ensure that the capability effectively reaches all employees in the organization. You'll have one geeky guy in the office that figures everything out. In order for UC to have an impact across all users you need to present a consolidated package.

The other main advantages of our offer for UC are in the area of conferencing and mobility. In other words, it's layering on those two capabilities that makes the difference, with the added benefit of consolidating all of these on a single platform, which makes it much easier to proliferate those services to all users.

When you talk about things like audio conferencing, most SMEs are still using the conference key on their phone. The concept of an audio bridge, when each person joins independently and all can see online who is logged in - that's a collaboration feature that really isn't widely available on the public platforms.

In the case of mobility, it's in the sense of integrating office telephony features on the smartphone, like conference, transfer, hold, accessing the company dial plan, or accessing the company's [arranged] long distance service when outside the office. We make it as seamless as possible.

BNamericas: Do people have a mental block in the case of mobility - not really expecting these features on a mobile device?

Larson: Mobility is the reality in SMEs. Smartphones have definitely reached critical mass there. So employees now live in two parallel universes - the PC and the phone - which may not necessarily be in sync.

The SME may have a SIP trunk or inexpensive LD service available in the main office, but not on the street. So our mobility message is one of cost reduction, the ability to leverage low cost access, and the productivity advantage of publishing a single number to all of your clients, which IP Office then routes intelligently to the appropriate device.

So yes, they're aware that they have these challenges. Typically when we talk about this capability it resonates with the customer - they can relate to the challenges.

BNamericas: There used to be a lot of buzz about IMS, but we no longer hear about it much. Has the name basically changed to UC?

Larson: It has really been supplanted by SIP. IMS was looking to replicate these UC features across the carrier network, but now you have to factor in what's happened with cloud-based services. A lot of that was not anticipated five or 10 years ago, and the service providers saw themselves as the source of these applications.

The popularity of public, cloud-based platforms has moved the sense away from IMS - where the service provider was building all the infrastructure - to one of SIP connectivity, where now it's about integration and support and leveraging platforms that are out there.

BNamericas: When you work with service providers, and they set up a cloud-based UC offering, you miss out on the opportunity to sell systems directly to their SME clients. What is your approach to this conflict?

Larson: The cloud will certainly create a lot of change in the market. But our approach is to work with the service providers to show them a model in which Avaya can add value in a hosted model. So we're certainly not trying to shy away from it.

We're constantly working on solutions that will allow service providers to benefit from Avaya products and leverage them in such a way that they can be deployed quickly and easily in a cloud-based environment. It's not going to be widely prevalent "tomorrow" in Latin America, but it is coming.

BNamericas: Can Latin American SMEs look to North American SMEs as examples of what is possible? How far behind are we here?

Larson: It's definitely a more sophisticated user in North America. There are pockets in Latin America that are quite advanced in adoption of advanced features, and others where analog telephony still represents the bulk of the market. Chile is almost as advanced as North America in some ways. But Latin America is still behind the curve on the whole.

BNamericas: Last week's IP Office 7.0 announcement marked consolidation of many features that overlapped across the ex-Nortel and older Avaya solutions. But one item not mentioned was the Software Communications System solution (SCS). How does that fit into the picture?

Larson: BCM and IP Office do include some softphone aspects, so they can be called hybrid systems, but SCS is quite different. It also comes from Nortel, like BCM, but is 100% software-based, running on commercially available servers, via generally available gateways and SIP phones. So it doesn't support digital or analog deskphones at all, but it delivers the full UC feature-set. It's being targeted to select markets - only Brazil in our case.

BNamericas: Is Brazil a pilot project then?

Larson: Not really, no. We want to establish the correct model for "go to market" because it is a revolutionary approach to our historical business. We found that the experience Nortel had with it, spreading out across the globe [simultaneously], didn't allow the proper amount of focus to get it moving.

It's more about data, positioning our data solutions - which are now just as important to us as selling phones.

It's easier to allocate resources if focused on key markets, since it requires a different kind of business partner to position it. [For example], SCS plays a role in cloud and hosted opportunities. It can be virtualized; we see it as a platform for service providers. That's not to say that it won't be expanded outside Brazil, but we're focusing our resources to get critical mass [first].

Another advantage in Brazil is that you can leverage locally manufactured [software] components, to have a more compelling offer there.

BNamericas: Does that mean there will be a shift in your proportion of hardware sales versus software sales in Brazil?

Larson: No. SCS is not looking to displace anything in Brazil. It's definitely an incremental business that we're adding on top of our existing SME, contact center and UC businesses. We're looking to have a new partner base, to reach customers we hadn't reached with the traditional solutions.

About Phil Larson

Phil Larson has worked for Avaya since 1996. Before occupying his current position as solutions manager for the SME segment in Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean, he was Avaya marketing manager for the Caribbean.

Larson has a degree in international business from the University of California, San Diego.

About the company

Avaya specializes in business communications and collaboration systems, and has built a reputation in the field of unified communications. The company serves Latin America and the Caribbean through a network of more than 500 partners and distributors. Avaya also runs four network operations centers and four training centers in the region, and one of the firm's four Global Support Services centers is in Argentina.