It is an unusual occurrence for me to receive a call from any company to discuss their support. Generally the media gets all warm and fuzzy about tangible things like new product launches – scoops and items you can put in the category of breaking news. Ironically though if you ask most companies what differentiates them from the pack, service and support is typically the most common answer. Yet, I can’t remember other companies asking me to meet their new head of global services.
And yet perhaps one of the most important things you need to do when you have a complex system of networks carrying packets full of voice and video communication is to ensure it all operates at peak efficiency. In other words the area which could be most important to a customer – getting a communications and/or networking system back up and running after an outage is often an afterthought. It is hardly discussed.
But still, I was a bit surprised when the offer came from Avaya to meet Mohamad Ali, President of Avaya Global Services. The company’s PR team was so excited about the meeting I decided to take it. I was tentative – but walked away impressed.
Ali started the conversation telling me he is passionate about service and this is to be expected – but what is more interesting is that he doesn’t come from the service and support space. In fact his background is quite different and most impressive. He worked for IBM where he led and integrated many acquisitions such as Cognos, FileNet, Ascential Software and he also was the program director of the GSM semiconductor business and co-led the PricewaterhouseCoopers acquisition which transformed the company. He has also worked for Adobe and has an EE Bachelors and Masters from Stanford.
The reason this is important has to do with the fact that Ali can be doing anything – he could be heading up M&A at Avaya, managing the design of products and a whole host of other initiatives. When I mentioned this the response was that Avaya CEO Kevin Kennedy is a visionary and has said the company should be investing heavily in services and service technology as a differentiator. Moreover he said Kennedy was willing to put a key person in this role – which to me says a great deal.
The cancer connection
So half the story is about the resources Avaya is dedicating to support the other half is that Ali is looking to radically simplify support and to dramatically reduce time to resolution. And where he received his inspiration is interesting. It turns out that he heard a presentation from a cancer researcher at Mass General who spoke of the evolution of cancer treatment. It was once necessary for doctors to try treatment after treatment to determine the correct drug which needs to be prescribed. In other words a hit or miss process. But then a machine was built which matched biopsy results to the right type of gene mutation allowing improved results.
The goal then is to imitate the workings of the machine described above – and in doing so create true service innovation and of course differentiation. One point he made was that Avaya systems have diagnostics and alarms allowing for lots of output on which to perform diagnostic analysiss. He contrasted this to a competitor (he didn’t mention any by name but obviously Cisco) which has a lot of disparate boxes making this task more difficult. Of course Avaya recently acquired Nortel – bringing a few disparate boxes into the mix as well.
The night shift
One technique the company uses is simulating traffic at night in order to pinpoint problems with critical and other systems. This can be done across the contact center products, switches, voice and video systems. Ali tells me Nortel gave Avaya access to excellent diagnostics and these will be incorporated across the product line soon. Moreover, not everything is covered across the product portfolio is covered yet but they are working on getting all the diagnostics to cover all the products.
Streamlining Support Advantage
One of the biggest pieces of news from Ali’s department is the new Avaya Support Advantage model features two packages Essential Support and Preferred Support. Essential Support is the basic level of support. It’s targeted at those customers who require solution level remote technical support, and also software updates and patches. Preferred Support includes all the features of Essential package and more comes with remote monitoring that alerts Avaya within 90 seconds of receiving an alarm, and it can drive up to 20 percent faster resolution times, on average, due to increased visibility via around-the-clock monitoring. Plus, it includes Avaya EXPERT Systems.
Moreover, support pricing has been detached from the underlying product making it easier to determine the price based on a standard schedule. For customers who have multiple support contracts there is the option for co-termination and synchronized billing going forward.
Some of the benefits to customers are easier management and budgeting, less paperwork, less bills, reduced time to resolution and better customer service.
Nortel and Avaya users to benefit
Nortel and Avaya Support are expected to both improve as the best features of each will be rolled out across the other product line. For example there is now lifetime support across the Nortel portfolio and an emergency response program designed to help Avaya customers with catastrophic failures.
A more difficult support future
Ali mentioned the architecture of communications moving from centralized management approach to highly distributed service with multiple servers at the edge and in the cloud. He went on to mention that UC is becoming more unified and voice, data, video, IM and SMS are being used through a unified environment. He mentioned that Aura helps unify these modes of collaboration and Avaya’s diagnostic technology leverages Aura at the intersection allowing multimodal analysis in a holistic manner.
Like I mentioned at the top – service and support is usually a talking a point in my vendor discussions and it rarely comes up in detail. Avaya seems to be committing serious resources into differentiating itself in this important area. Now the question becomes how important does this become to enterprises? We know IT departments are constantly being asked to do more with less – perhaps now is the best time for Avaya to be making this push. In addition to customers, I am looking forward to seeing how the rest of the information technology and telecom market responds to Avaya’s cancer treatment-inspired support improvements.