Chapter 11 is never a good look for a tech supplier, whatever the reason for it. In the case of unified communications and network solutions supplier Avaya, it wanted to buy time to restructure its business as it transitioned from a hardware to a software business. Arguably there was more to it than that, but that was the company line and, damnit, the company was going to stick to that!
But at Gitex Technology Week – the Middle East’s equivalent of Mobile World Congress and CES rolled into one , which has just kicked off in Dubai – Avaya is strutting its stuff with more confidence than I can remember it having at any time since the start of the decade, when it was still drunk on its purchase of Nortel’s network hardware business.
What’s going on? Why is Avaya wearing Chapter 11 with pride? Why is it hosting journalists on foreign press junkets? Why aren’t the PRs crying in the bar? This is not how it’s meant to be!
Well, to start with, Avaya is done with networking hardware. D-O-N-E. The Nortel hangover was obviously too much to bear, and the legacy switching business was duly up-chucked in June (come on down, Extreme Networks!).
Nidal Abou-Ltaif, president of Avaya’s newly-created International division, which (as is so often the case) means everything that isn’t the US and Canada, told me that bidding farewell to the legacy networking business had been an emotional process for Avaya.
Why couldn’t it be made to work, I asked him? Refreshingly for a supplier exec, his reply was candid.
“We wanted to focus on our core business, which was traditional UC [unified communications] and contact centres – what we have sold is an amazing technology and we are very proud of every customer installation we did, but it’s not easy to go to market and keep supporting customers when you have 3% of the market,” he explained.
Switching and routing kit is technology that as Abou-Ltaif said, you can “close your eyes and sell”, and it’s true that a couple of big suppliers basically have this market sewn up, so Avaya believes that by refocusing on its old core business, it can actually sell more by making its products software-based, cloud-hosted, and interoperable with Cisco et al.
Looking ahead, Abou-Ltaif said Avaya will be ploughing money into software and cloud, and it will likely spend at least the next 18 months revitalising and modernising its UC lines to get them match fit for the new world of networks. No new product launches at Gitex this time around.
For the UK – which has lost its status as Avaya’s EMEA base (thanks to the restructuring process into the US and International businesses) – Abou-Ltaif said that Brexit would bring it new opportunities among smaller businesses as they try to modernise their infrastructure to compete more effectively (he also added that Avaya’s German salespeople have Euro signs in their eyes as they prepare to pitch to all the financial services companies that are planning to move some of their operations away from London after Brexit).
So what else can we expect from Gitex this year? Well, Avaya is bringing customers from all over the region and from a diverse set of verticals, ranging from communications suppliers such as Telekom Serbia and Hungary’s Magyar Telecom; to financial services firms such as Oman’s Mashreq Bank and Dutch powerhouse ABN Amro; to white goods manufacturers such as BSH Hausgeräte.
Notice a theme? They’re all sectors that are powering headlong into the connected digital world opened up by the Internet of Things, which will perhaps unsurprisingly be the talk of the show this week, and not just at the Avaya booth – Gitex is a trade event on an epic scale, and everybody wants a piece of the digital pie, from the humblest component manufacturer you probably never heard of to the industry heavy hitters – AWS, Cisco and the like.
Gartner stats suggest that 89% of organisations now expect to compete primarily on customer experience, meaning that enterprises need to rapidly evolve their digital strategies to deliver differentiated experiences to users. Experience is the key word here, and walking around the exhibition halls, Avaya is not alone in pinning its hopes on what I would argue is often rather a poorly thought through concept.
Let’s just hope it doesn’t turn out to be another drunken mistake.