Partners To Avaya: Be Clear On Radvision Integration, Channel Sales Plans

Avaya and Radvision partners see positives in Avaya's planned $230 million acquisition of videoconferencing specialist Radvision, but are cautioning Avaya to make clear to partners right away how they expect those video products to be sold through channel partners.

Avaya confirmed the $230 million acquisition Thursday: a pickup that gives Avaya an in-house option for video endpoints and infrastructure to complement its unified communications dominance and be a fully integrated part of its Aura UC platform, instead of relying on third-party OEM or strategic video partnerships.

The deal bolsters Avaya's ability to compete with Cisco, Polycom and LifeSize Communications in the enterprise videoconferencing space -- even if it means dumping partner agreements with Polycom and LifeSize down the line.

It's a statement move by Avaya, most solution providers agreed, especially as Avaya heads for an initial public offering. And it's especially good for Radvision, which has struggled to recover from the loss of a lucrative OEM agreement with Cisco two years ago.

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"Avaya had been dabbling in video and not really committed to it," said Mike Brandofino, executive vice president, video and communications for Tampa-based solution provider AVI-SPL. "They had the LifeSize OEM and the Polycom resell relationship, but to go head-to-head against Cisco and Polycom, if you don't have a complete solution that's yours, you're at a disadvantage. So it's good for Avaya. And for Radvision, they needed to find a home after they were used and then kicked to the curb by Cisco. It's a great technology and a great platform."

[Related: Where's The Puck Going In Enterprise Videoconferencing? ]

AVI-SPL, ranked No. 48 on CRN's 2011 VAR500 listing and one of the country's top video integrators, has been a Radvision partner for two years, and doesn't resell Avaya PBX products but has been brought in to support Avaya in deals where video integration work was required, Brandofino said.

When Cisco acquired Tandberg in 2010, it too readily opened up Tandberg video products to UC and data networking-focused Cisco partners that didn't have video backgrounds, Brandofino said, and also had a host of initial problems with distribution of the products.

The same thing could happen at Avaya, Brandofino warned.

"Cisco kind of messed up that distribution in the beginning by allowing folks who didn't really sell video to sell it," Brandofino said. "Avaya is a whole lot of audio and voice integrators that don't know know a lot about video. It will be interesting to see how they get those folks up to speed. I hope they set the bar for the people allowed to sell that technology high."

Brandofino urged Avaya not to ignore Radvision's channel partners and use the input of those partners to determine how it will certify partners to sell Radvision video.

"I'd much rather see us partnering with Avaya resellers," he said. "We don't sell your audio stuff, but if you have video opportunities, bring us in, and we'll do it, especially if it's a managed services component. It'll be a while before Avaya resellers are able to do that on their own, so Avaya should foster relationships with the prior [Radvision] reseller channel and make sure they keep that expertise."

Avaya needs to come up with a clear plan and communicate that as soon as possible to partners, VARs said.

"The key is Avaya's ability to integrate and get the playbooks and support structure out to the partners as soon as possible," said Ed Wadbrook, vice president, applications and collaborative solutions for Carousel Industries, an Exeter, R.I.-based solution provider and one of Avaya's top national partners.

Wadbrook said Radvision brings a number of strong products to Avaya's portfolio and would also be fit for Avaya's expanded efforts around DevConnect, Avaya's program for third party app developer partners. Radvision's holdings include BEEHD, a suite of voice and video developer tools.

"What they get is room systems, telepresence, Radvision's Scopia [line] -- which includes a pretty dynamic mobile client -- and a good development environment, which goes with what Avaya's been doing with DevConnect," said Wadbrook, a former director of Avaya's Aura product group and a longtime UC executive. "It's not dissimilar to what Cisco has done in terms of pulling together more of the video assets. What Radvision has is a scalable video coding (SVC) technology that offers a more advanced approach to videoconferencing and a more judicious use of bandwidth."

Next: Was Avaya's Move A 'Knee Jerk' Reaction?

Carousel is well positioned to expand its videoconferencing business behind Avaya's move, Wadbrook said. The solution provider also partners with Polycom and other video players like Vidyo, and has been building its video practice throughout the past two years, including via a 2011 acquisition of A/V integrator OmniPresence.

"Carousel has been doing this for many years and doing it with a multi-vendor approach," Wadbrook said. "We understand the specific needs of this space and can add it to the portfolio we already have, which is unique in the community of Avaya channel partners."

Wadbrook and several partners cited the breadth of Radvision's portfolio and its emphasis on mobile video through the Scopia Mobile application as attractive to partners wrestling with customers' BYOD challenges.

"It's a real positive in that it now allows Avaya the ability to provide customers with a suite of cost effective, easy-to-use, high definition video collaboration solutions to further build out the UC portfolio," said Richard Tarity, executive vice president, sales and marketing for Transcend United, a Wayne, Pa.-based solution provider. "With that ever demanding and ever-changing BYOD market, Radvision integration into the Avaya product line is a home run."

Other Avaya partners say they'll need Avaya to be as up front as possible about how Radvision will benefit its channel and how it intends for partners to sell its associated video wares.

"It seems like a knee-jerk reaction," said Stuart Chandler, president and CEO of Optivor Technologies, an Annapolis Junction, Md.-based solution provider and top Avaya data networking partner. "They want to get further into video because Cisco had its video play, and LifeSize went to Logitech."

Chandler said he hadn't seen communication from Avaya about Radvision channel plans and that partners would need a clearly-defined strategy soon.

"The big thing for me back in the Nortel days was that information got out, and everyone was clear about strategy, and you had calls with customers and the partner community was behind it, being told why it was going to work," Chandler said. "Avaya seems to be making a lot of moves because it needs to IPO and is trying to hit quarterly numbers. They're doing things that aren't clear and defy their channel strategy. People want to hear from Avaya that it's supportive of partners and that this is important for partners."

Next: Avaya Talks Partners, Radvision Particulars

Avaya acquired Radvision for its strong technology that's complementary to Avaya's unified communications portfolio and SIP architecture, for a strong engineering group and talent pool, to have a fully integrated video solution at Avaya and to bring video intellectual property in-house so it can innovate faster, said Hugh McCullen, Avaya senior director for business development and strategic alliances.

"Video isn't just a CIO conversation, it's an end-user conversation," McCullen said. "Whether it's H.R., or finance, or the sales organization, you often have different video and applications touch points that you have to force-fit together. They're begging for a native video solution. We can natively integrate this intellectual property into the Avaya portfolio and drive seamless interoperability to promote and support BYOD."

"The important thing to note is that these endpoints and infrastructure will interoperate with Avaya on day one," said Nick Francis, Avaya's vice president of sales and marketing, video collaboration. "We'll have a full solution to sell -- a solution that will be tightly interoperable with our UC products and our data networking products -- at the beginning."

Avaya expects the acquisition to close within 90 days, and the plan right now is to keep Radvision intact -- including engineers and executive team -- and run Radvision as a business unit of Avaya focused on videoconferencing. Targeted sales teams from the combined Avaya and Radvision sales staff will attack the market, Francis said.

"But we don't want to encumber a smaller company while it's being assimilated," he said.

Avaya will provide more details on channel integration as the acquisition closes, Francis said, but will be deliberate about how it offers the Radvision products to its channel as well as how it addresses Radvision's existing partners, including the handful of solution providers Radvision has in North America.

"We are not going to require Radvision partners to become Avaya partners," Francis said. "We'll invest in the partners Radvision has and add to them our own set of partners, but it's not going to be something where we place a whole lot of demands on those partners."

Radvision represents Avaya's biggest acquisition since it bought Nortel's former enterprise unit in 2009, though the scope of the product and channel integration isn't nearly as large. It has made several small acquisitions since then, but Radvision's video footprint gives it a substantial videoconferencing boost that partners want to make sure they're a key part of.

"Don't ignore the channel," AVI-SPL's Brandofino said. "I think Cisco and Polycom both learned the hard way that it can hurt sales when the partners aren't on board with what you're doing. Avaya can reach out to us and get our viewpoints on the good and bad of what happened with Cisco, and learn from those mistakes. Keep us in the loop."