Interview: Avaya EMEA president Michael Bayer

We talk upcoming launches, acquisitions and R&D with the head of Europe for Avaya

Avaya has become a global power in the telecoms and networking space, despite being the younger cousin of many of its competitors, only having formed in the early 2000s.

The past four years have seen a leadership change in Europe, and in the most recent two the company has made a push for more customer-facing events to build on its growing following.

Computer Weekly met with the president of Avaya EMEA, Michael Bayer, during the company’s UK-based customer forum to talk about the topics on the company’s collective mind.


Avaya has always been big on acquisitions, although Bayer seemed quite defensive about the reputation.

“I have worked for companies which did five, eight, even 15 acquisitions a year,” he said. “That is what I would see as a lot. If I look at the past year and a half, we have done just four. I don’t think that is a lot.”

However, four is soon to become five, as the executive confirmed the acquisition of Radvision was just around the corner. The confirmation came as he was trying to convince Computer Weekly why now is the time videoconferencing will take off – a claim that has been floating around IT circles and video evangelists for more than 20 years.

“The reason [videoconferencing] hasn’t happened is pure price performance,” said Bayer. “If you listen to the Gartners and IDCs of the world, they would tell you in an [office] 30% are somehow collaboration workers who could benefit from a better collaboration environment.

“Video has only penetrated that market by 7%, so 23% of the defined target group is not penetrated.”

He described the desktop video engines as “massive”, “insulting” and “awkward”. However, he said dedicated rooms using telepresence were becoming “part of executive working and meeting culture”.

“Our view on video has always been high-definition, low-bandwidth, which is very different compared with our competitors,” said Bayer. “We believe some of them are not interested in low-bandwidth because they would like to sell networking gear which is high-bandwidth.

“Then you have interoperability, which none of those systems have. With the acquisition we are likely to finalise in just three weeks from now, you can have video between Radvision, Lync, Telepresence for Cisco, Polycom – it doesn’t matter.

“You have a box where you put a gigabit into the room-based video system, from whichever video system you use, and a gigabit comes out. That takes it to a different level,” he added.

There is also a lot more opportunity for video now with the proliferation of mobile devices in the corporate environment, all capable of streaming video.

“We provide a user interface, which makes it easy to connect, and we have a price point for your desktop, PC or Mac, your iPad, your iPhone, your Android phone, which now all of a sudden allows you to get video collaboration to all of this 30% to gain more efficiency and productivity,” added Bayer.

Research and development

So, if the company is not all about the acquisitions, despite the obvious enthusiasm for them, what does Avaya research and develop in-house to keep its technologies fresh?

Bayer’s real passion was around the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) enabled infrastructure the company has developed.

“We were at the forefront of driving SIP at the core and we were at the forefront of driving SIP as an open standard, not a customised standard,” he said.

Bayer claimed the open standard was a key to making SIP more widely accessible. He believed some companies would say they did SIP, add some extra features, and suddenly they would no longer work with other SIP products on the market.

We were at the forefront of driving SIP at the core and as an open standard

Michael Bayer, president, Avaya

“We are really driving that open standard because we believe the customer now, and even more in the future, is moving from federations – apps that run on different operating systems – to proliferation, where the customer would like to stay at least for a certain point of time to stick to the end points they have bought,” said Bayer.

“Working with those end points that are already there and have different operating systems and vendors is a big focus of our R&D.”

Wireless networking

Another area in which the company is investing heavily in R&D is wireless networking, due to the growing trend of bring-your-own-device (BYOD).

“We have seen exploding demand in the wireless network, so we stepped away from the OEM partnerships we had with wireless LAN and developed our own wireless network,” said Bayer.

Rather than working as an overlay to fixed networks, Avaya has designed it to be incorporated in the same layer, which Bayer claimed enables single secure sign-on, better scalability and better performance.

He claimed the first thing customers need to think about when going down the BYOD route is the growing impact on the wireless infrastructure in the corporate environment, as many more users and devices will be connecting to it.

“You need to be able to accommodate that,” said Bayer. “I go into a meeting room, I switch on my wireless, and if there is an open connection, I connect. It drives utilisation of the network from mobile devices, which is very different to the amount they were used two years ago.

“As Avaya, we have to step in and say, 'what is your vision in terms of BYOD… how much do you have to invest into your wireless network to be able to accommodate the performance that your users are satisfied with?'.”

We have opened the door to people who come with an Airbook or tablet PC, as long as we can build the corporate image onto it

Michael Bayer, president, Avaya

The market is progressing, according to Bayer, as more and more customers are entering the conversation with wireless on their minds.

“In all of the discussions I am having with my customers, it is coming more and more to the forefront,” he said. “You might have made your mind up on BYOD, [but] if you have missed looking into the wireless network you have within your current enterprise environment, you are going to hit the wall because your users are going to be highly disappointed with the performance.”

BYOD at Avaya

While the company talks the talk, it also walks the walk within its own environment. Avaya has an open policy to mobile phones, allowing employees to bring in any handset and giving them a SIM card from one of its company-approved service providers.

It also provides its own interface, called One-X, to run over mobile phones, which works with seven different operators and links up a handset to an employee's fixed-line phone and software phone on their desktop, allowing the user to answer a call from anywhere on any device.

The use of laptops is a little more controlled though.

“We have standardised our laptops on Windows or Mac,” revealed Bayer. “We still own the corporate image and we believe for the majority of our workforce we will still have better contracts in place with certain laptop suppliers rather than opening it up to BYOD, but we have opened the door to people who come with an Airbook or tablet PC, as long as we can build the corporate image onto it.”

Voice at the core

Bayer concluded that while Avaya would be making its moves into new markets, whether through acquisitions or R&D, there was still one element it would always keep close to its heart – voice.

“We always have our traditional voice business,” he said. “We research voice capabilities – the quality and the speed. Then we go into development, which is on a two to three-year timeframe to market.

“That is our core competency we are not giving up.”

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