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Any earnest discussion of Avaya has to start with the uncomfortable facts: Avaya's financials are shaky, it's planning layoffs, its executive team is in a near-constant state of flux, and its plan to return as a public company, first announced in June 2011, has more than likely been shelved.
What Avaya does have, on the other hand, is the strongest technology portfolio in its 12-year history, big bets made on areas such as data center convergence and videoconferencing that expand its traditional UC and contact center purview, and one of the deepest installed bases in the enterprise communications market, with little, if any, market share lost in its key segments over the past few years.
"An IPO is certainly in doubt, but any time you have an installed base the size they have, from a corporate perspective, that's gold," said Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal of ZK Research. "Traditionally, market share in telephony has been very difficult to gain and lose. The only company that was really an exception to that was Cisco, which struck at the right time, when VoIP got hot. Outside of that, there's been a few points of share shift here and there, so one of Avaya's biggest assets is being able to hold that base."
[Related: 10 Sticky Questions For The Avaya Channel]
Avaya's future is top of mind as it convenes several hundred partners at its Avaya Americas Executive Partner Forum this week in Cancun, Mexico. While Avaya's channel bosses and product experts are expected to set the tone for Avaya's partnering strategy going forward, the event will be a lower-key affair than the sprawling partner conferences Avaya's held in Las Vegas for the past two years. CEO Kevin Kennedy and most of Avaya's SVP-level executives are not in attendance.
The big question for Avaya partners is whether Avaya has delivered on its promise to be a channel powerhouse. It sells more through partners than ever before -- its percentages have inched up going back to when Kennedy told solution providers, at Avaya's 2009 partner conference, the acquisition of Nortel's former enterprise unit would get Avaya to more than 80 percent channel-sales in a three-year time frame.
But, challenges persist. The overall market for UC and contact center sales hasn't been particularly kind over the last few years, and with so many big transitions happening at Avaya, from the 2009 revamp of its Avaya Connect global channel program to ongoing makeovers of its services businesses and pressure on partners to sell data networking and other products beyond its UC core strength, some partners view Avaya as eternally distracted.
Channel hearts, however, are in the right place, especially with Tom Mitchell, senior vice president and president, Avaya Go-To-Market; Karl Soderlund, vice president of channel sales, Avaya Americas; and the rest of Avaya's current channel management at the helm. Mitchell and Soderlund in particular, partners say, have emphasized better collaboration between the field-level channel operation with the broader Avaya direct sales organization and also Avaya's executive committee.
"There's always the knock that Avaya is difficult to work with. It's the old Lucent, and with Nortel, so yes, it is a big organization, and it is complex," said Rick Hirsh, CEO of Transcend United Technologies, a Wayne, Pa.-based solution provider and Avaya Platinum partner. "But I can get to Mitchell and get to Karl and the team. They've helped us on complex bid situations. They have made themselves accessible. We've found Avaya to be a good partner, and it's like any other partnership, where you have to learn the rules, the lingo and the process."
"There was a lot of bad behavior that they have fixed," said James Marsh, senior vice president of Carousel Industries, an Exeter, R.I.-based solution provider and Avaya Platinum partner. "I think Karl is doing a pretty good job righting the ship, and Tom has brought a lot more credibility to their approach. It's not nearly as negative as it used to be. My message to my team is that we know it's been bumpy with Avaya, but we can get shoulder to shoulder and win business together. They need us to be competitive."
"Progress has been good," said Mike Ferney, vice president of merchandising for distributor ScanSource's Catalyst Telecom division. "When we have concerns, we feel like we have a tremendous connection. That's a benefit because sometimes partners will share info with us that they'd be less comfortable sharing with Avaya. So we're able to consolidate the feedback, provide a little anonymity to the resellers, but tell Avaya what's really going on so they can adjust. And, they've responded well."