Aspect vs. Avaya, round one

The gloves are starting to come off between these major contact center and telecom vendors.

As Avaya digests its Nortel platter, Aspect, a primary competitor, takes no time to stir up the FUD sentiment relating to the merger. Aspect’s Mike Ely, Director of System Architecture, jabs at Avaya’s SIP and UC roadmaps:

The issue, however, is that focusing on SIP is relatively new to the Avaya roadmap. Customers and prospects should look for a SIP interoperability policy from Avaya in order to fully understand the implications of leveraging proprietary SIP applications. Contact centers should carefully vet the levels of additional charges could be required to SIP-enable existing switches to work directly with the Aura environment. The alternative is that they will continue with their TSAPI computer telephony integration (CTI) solution – which should be displaced by IP-based integration – without fully leveraging a SIP backbone. Thus, Avaya-Nortel customers may not be able to standardize their contact center applications on a multi-vendor hardware infrastructure. Aspect has long recognized the importance of standards-based solutions in that they do not lock organizations in to proprietary applications or hardware as they look to enhance and upgrade as needed to address business objectives.

Avaya has not yet outlined a specific strategy related to bringing unified communications and collaboration capabilities to their Aura platform. This has implications for Nortel customers who’ve developed strategies around Microsoft technology, and should raise some questions from those who are still forming their unified communications plans. Customers who’ve planned around Microsoft technologies should ask whether the Aura communications backbone will enable them to leverage Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) as a unified communications infrastructure – or will they have to start over with a new unified communications platform?  In addition, companies should compare the number of components and communications infrastructure complexities of an Aura and if it will provide the key unified communications functionality and office integration that Microsoft OCS provides.  They need to examine if it will be a redundant component complicating management and if it will increase the cost compared to a rich OCS deployment.

To which Jon Alperin of Avaya politely responds:

Over 8 years ago, Avaya formalized the DevConnect Program to provide third parties with the technical support, resources and compliance testing programs necessary to deliver innovative joint solutions with a recognized level of interoperability. This extends to providing our customers, channels and support teams with the documentation and configuration information necessary to allow successful implementations.

To paraphrase a comment made at the 2009 VoiceCon show in Orlando, if you know who your members are and what they are doing, you really don’t have a developer program. Well, DevConnect has certainly grown to become a true developer program, with over 10,000 companies developing more solutions than we can even imagine. In fact, DevConnect is recognized by leading analysts including Gartner, Canalys and The Yankee Group as an important strength in Avaya’s market leadership position. With the addition of Nortel’s portfolio, DevConnect supports over 170 different open interfaces across more than 40 products or platforms.

We don’t think of SIP as simply a protocol. To Avaya, SIP is the underpinning of an entire architectural model, inclusive of endpoint devices, network interconnections with Service Providers, and for providing new flexibility in connecting the right applications to the right people.

We recognize that our customers rely heavily on contact center and Unified Communications applications to run their business, and that there is a cost to migrating fully functioning and useful applications from older, well established APIs such as TSAPI/JTAPI to any other protocol. So we don’t force them to do this. Instead we enable them to gain the advantages of SIP, including access to rich presence-based information, by allowing them to gently introduce SIP into their network architectures where and when it makes financial sense to do so for their unique situations.

There’s no winner to declare here. Both have made valid arguments and good points. However, the volley of blog posts between Aspect and Avaya gives us a glimpse of how traditional telecom vendors are dealing with the ever evolving communications landscape — in this case, SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) — and the realities of the business world.

Aspect has always been focused on contact center technologies, from the ACD to CTI to workforce management to UC. It knows contact center software. It has always billed itself as a software company and has consistently placed in Gartner’s Leaders quadrant in recent years for worldwide contact center infrastructure. Being a software company it knows the importance of interoperability and platform and standards. That’s why it also has an intimate partnership with the world’s largest software company, Microsoft. In fact, the Redmond Giant has an unspecified equity stake in Aspect, ensuring that Microsoft will always have an entry point into the contact center business and not just enterprise communications (via its Office Communications Server offering). Transitioning to something like SIP is almost a natural course of progression for Aspect — just get the engineers to tweak some code and be done! Next standard, please!

Avaya, on the other hand, has a history of spin-offs and mergers. It was spun-off from Lucent’s business communications division. It was privatized by two well-known equity firms. It then won the bid for Nortel’s Enterprise Communications division. The company has always been about selling the box (hardware) as much as what’s inside it (software). It was also successful in dominating the contact center business with its PBXs and servers thanks to its developer-friendly DevConnect Program which allows third parties to create applications surrounding its communications platform. Moving from traditional TDM applications to SIP-based ones weren’t as simple for Avaya and its peers (e.g. Nortel). Most of the time it required additional boxes to enable the SIP solution, and thinking hard about what products are worth the additional resources to IP-enable them and how to satisfy existing customers who weren’t ready for IP.

The bottom line? Software-centric vendors like Aspect believes that it is the hare compared to the tortoise that is Avaya (and an even slower tortoise with Nortel on board). We all know how the old fable ended. But in today’s dynamic competitive business environment, the hares know better not to nap and the tortoises know to wear skates.

And I’m awaiting Cisco’s response…


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