ScanSource CEO: For Avaya VARs, It's Time To Execute

Avaya channel partners have a lot to think about these days, from the vendor’s services push to the Nortel integration to adding third-party products to fill out a solution. All three were hot topics at the 2010 Catalyst Telecom Partner Conference in Myrtle Beach, S.C., this week, where Mike Baur, president and CEO of ScanSource, took part in the discussion.

Baur spoke with CRN’s Scott Campbell about Avaya and how VARs should be adjusting their businesses to offer the newest solutions. The following are excerpts from the conversation.

CRN: Let’s start with a three-part question. What should VARs take away from this conference for each of these subjects: Avaya, Catalyst Telecom and the IT market in general?

Baur: Congratulations to those who made it through 2009.

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From an Avaya perspective, it’s about once they clearly got through the Nortel acquisition, now it’s an execution model. Avaya has been very clear on the product road map, which was a real source of consternation for a while. Clearly now, it’s time execute.

The whole unified communications space is getting more complex. Todd Abbott [Avaya's senior vice president of global sales and marketing and president of field operations] mentioned today that as we move to a more open world, SIP-based, it will require more solutions from multiple vendors. The opportunity is there for a dealer or VAR to differentiate themselves more than in the past. In the past, everyone sold the same products, services and the differentiator was geography or maybe a vertical market. Now it’s about the sophistication of the solution.

There’s more than the PBX. There’s the software, services, business applications. That’s a big change in communications.

CRN: As Avaya VARs move toward a more open environment, how are you bringing on more third-party vendors to fill out the solution?

Baur: We’ve added a few more software-oriented [vendors] this year. As John Black [president of Catalyst Telecom] mentioned, we have a couple of video surveillance vendors from ScanSource Security that fit into [Catalyst]. Some products are easier to cross-sell, from our POS/bar-code group, security, communications.

CRN: This is the first conference I’ve been to in a long time where I haven’t heard the word ’cloud.’ I don’t know if I should hug you or worry about you. Is cloud computing something you guys are looking at, or does it not fit where you’re going?

Baur: [Laughs]. We’ve all had a lot of cloud this year. For us, the focus is what we sell today. It’s clear cloud computing is here. The ’year of the network’ took about 12 years to happen. This cloud thing could take [some time]. Right now, we’re talking about what we plan to execute this year, how to get revenue and increase opportunities.

CRN: Are your VARs asking about what you guys plan to do in the cloud?

Baur: They’re not. Our vendors are getting that question. It’s the vendors really driving that. We’re certainly aware of it and it’s something we’ll learn more about.

CRN: What are you guys doing in regard to integrating the Nortel product line and Nortel VARs into the business?

Baur: We started working on Nortel last year. Early on last year, Avaya recruited us to recruit resellers. We’ve got six of the top 10 Nortel resellers. It’s about how to move to Avaya. Traditionally, it’s been hard for [Nortel] partners to switch to Avaya. The good news in the switch is Avaya bought Nortel. We’ve hired 10 specific [Nortel] resources and we’re cross-training the rest of the team. We feel very good about our capabilities for new partners.

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CRN: There’s a lot of first-time partners at this event. Are a lot of those former Nortel partners looking to learn more about Avaya and you guys?

Baur: Most are Nortel partners or they’re here for other companies, like Juniper. We have a big focus on selling Juniper.

CRN: Are you looking to get more Juniper VARs into selling the Avaya platform too?

Baur: Maybe. We know this idea of convergence, it’s more real to us than cloud. The Juniper customer sees that, sees we have acquired expertise. That’s a positive for them. We’re starting to see more of them become Avaya certified. We’ve also seen some Juniper resellers partner with Avaya resellers.

CRN: Speaking of partnering, at a conference like this it’s great for the partners to talk together. But you guys talked today about SUMO, a new member-driven network to get VARs working together. That’s going to be a big push in the future?

Baur: Networking at a conference can happen realtime, but the benefit through SUMO and our new community is it can happen much more frequently. Bobby McLain [vice president of marketing], said it’s like a That’s the first phase, to get everyone into the community. Let start talking to each other and when that happens we’ll see commerce between these partners.

CRN: The big issue with peer-to-peer networks is getting them to trust each other. Do you envision that being a problem?

Baur: The way partners used to find each other was to ask someone else. We would play a lot in that role. As partners meet each other, we’ll take a more active role in asking customers who they are. We don’t want a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval," but we think you think you should trust who you’re working with. How do you trust someone you don’t know?

CRN: So you guys will take an active role in making introductions initially?

Baur: We have a customer who’s been bugging me for four years to do this. He’s asked me, "Do you know anybody that can do this?" I’d say yes and he’d say, "How did I not know this guy before?" It’s always been hit or miss. You’re at a conference, but it might not coincide with when you have a need. It’s a starting point. Collaboration is something that will gain traction. They’ve all been told by manufacturers that they have to specialize more, that they can’t do everything. You’ve got to partner. You’ve got to collaborate.