Buddie Ceronie, vice president of Northern Europe and South Africa at enterprise telephony and call centre player Avaya, talks about how the Session Initiation Protocol and IP is changing the possibilities for customer communications.
Q: How has the fact that you became a private company again last year affected business?
A: The company went private at the end of October when two private equity firms Silver Lake and TPG Capital bought Avaya for $8,2bn. So our last fiscal quarter ended in December was our first quarter under private ownership.
The first notable difference is that the company is running with a quicker velocity than before. Silver Lake and TPG were very decisive in backing our strategy, which is to put our comms technology at the heart of the business, and getting us to execute that strategy quicker.
One of the first changes is that we have already decided to invest in hiring sales people, primarily in Europe and particularly the UK, as these are areas where we believe can grow two to three times faster than the market.
We are starting to look more like a software company and started decoupling applications software from the hardware platform 18 months to two years ago. So we've been making a fairly major change from hardware to software.
Q: Why is SIP important and what part does it play in your business plans?
A: SIP is starting to play an increasingly strong part in communications strategy. It is fast becoming the accepted industry standard and underlies our strategy and many investments over the last two years have been in software technology to enhance the core business. In January we bought SIP company Ubiquity Software in Wales, which will integrate into our offerings going forward. It has been Avaya's strategy to be industry standard as opposed to our competitors.
SIP is going to a play a bigger part as it moves to become a more mainstream technology this year and we start to see some smart devices from suppliers.
Q: So what kind of areas are your customers working on?
A: CIOs typically say three things are important to them: lowering costs, at the same time how to drive customer satisfaction from the bottom and the top of the business, and how to measure that customer satisfaction. Things have changed quite dramatically.
CIOs say that it is very easy to see how it can help enhance customer satisfaction, but what is missing is really the measurement of that customer satisfaction.
Many of our customers are migrating to IP and a very strong part of our business is working with them to help them do that and to map out the strategy from TDM to complete IP world and applications.
We have introduced our CEBP (communications-enabled business process) strategy, which aims to help customers keep track of all their communications. For example, say an airline had to cancel your flight, usually you only find out it was cancelled when you get to the airport. CEBP could detect that the flight was cancelled and then e-mail, fax, or text you to contact the customers: it takes out the latency and human errors. So instead of being told your flight is cancelled, you could get a call saying you have been rebooked on another flight and we have changed your hotel booking for you.
It is integrated with ERP, CRM, databases, which puts us right at the core of your business, which is part of our strategy. We are moving up the value stack and are doing more for them to improve customer satisfaction and lower costs and improve their top and bottom line. This is a unique position and quite new for us and we HAve been evangelising about this technology for 12 months with a number of pilot sites.
Another example is that CEBP could set up communications so that if share prices go up or down a certain percentage then senior management would be automatically contacted for a conference call.
Q: Are you targeting the SME market more, following the announcement of your 0% finance option?
A: We define SME as around a 100 handsets or people and it accounts for about 20% of our business. We rolled out the 0% finance to SMES and that proved very successful and then we recently extended this to the mid market. This mid-market segment is now adopting IP very rapidly and identifying the benefits so it has become a key focus for us.
We are still targeted at the enterprise market and are very strong in the financial sector and work with most of the large financial institutions. We did not used to be strong in central and local government as other vendors so we started to focus on the public sector a couple of years ago and now we have customers such as the DVLA, Cheshire County Council, and Cambridge County Council.