Q&A: How to Reclaim Tens of Thousands of Dollars from your Avaya Solutions

Craig Schnieder is the VP of Operations for VOX Network Solutions, a fast-growing San Francisco Bay Area-based Platinum partner of Avaya. I spoke to him about VOX, and his advice for customers to wring value out of undiscovered elements in their already-purchased Avaya solutions.

Craig Schnieder VOX Solutions

Craig Schnieder of VOX Network Solutions

Photo by Andres Larranaga/Avaya

Give me an overview of VOX.

Schnieder: Our background is around the heritage Nortel products. That’s the legacy of a lot of our resources and we’ve migrated that fully into the Avaya Red – going forward, Evolution – platforms today. Really, we don’t specialize in any one area, really. Our goal is to provide communications solutions across the portfolio to our customer base.

A lot of our customers are headquartered within the Western region, but we do have customers across the country and we have a global deployment strategy as well that we’ve been able to leverage for quite a few of our customers now across APAC and EMEA regions, too.


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What do you find the main thing that people are coming to you for?

Schnieder: Our real goal is to reframe that conversation from a technology conversation to a business one and talk about what the business issues are. We have a very specialized process that we call the VPOP program where we engage with the contact center stakeholders across the business, understand a little more about where process breakdowns exist within their company, and talk about generically how certain technology solutions can help address those breakdowns and provide a hard ROI breakdown for that.

I think the whole business model is changing with customers. Before, somebody built a box or a widget that did something and you went out and you peddled that widget to do whatever, but customers aren’t looking to buy widgets anymore. They’re looking for the total package. They’re looking for what we call solutions, which is this high-level, holistic view of what’s going on within the business and how we’re going to define and solve a specific business challenge.

Schnieder: Exactly. It’s not one product or one technology that is intended to address everyone’s problems these days. It’s a suite of applications. It’s a holistic approach to really addressing, finding out what the customer’s real needs are, and not trying to put a box in to address it.

What have you seen in the industry come forward that has really enabled you to change into this new business model? What has empowered you on the back end to do that?

Schnieder: Across the solution as Avaya moves into more of the software and application provider space, and out of a hardware solution, it really gives us a lot more flexibility in terms of what we’re offering our customers: flexibility in the deployment, whether you’re looking at a premise appliance model versus a hybrid, cloud-virtualized environments. We have a lot of flexibility now in how we deliver these solutions to our customers.

I want to talk about leveraging feature entitlements, moving forward.

Schnieder: One thing that we found walking into an existing customer base, we find that many times customers don’t fully understand the breadth of features that they have available to them, they’ve already purchased.

Right, stuff they already own and have in the closet, so to speak.

Schnieder: Exactly, and some of these are hidden entitlements within a certain feature level. Some of them are bundled within suite licensing bundles. And some of them are enhanced reporting capabilities that are underneath maintenance offerings as well. So one thing we really want our customers to look at is really understanding what those features are, what are available to them. Some of these are features that are very powerful, that have been within the Aura and Affinity product lines for many, many years. Things like EC500 and Meet Me Conferencing. Many customers might not even be aware these are features they are able to consume immediately. And many of these are not even requiring the purchase of a server or the engagement of a formal professional services implementation, engagement with a partner, with Avaya. Some of these, a savvy telecom engineer can open a book and take advantage of some of these applications within a couple of hours within their environment.

So your role is to enable or foster that to happen within your customer base?

Schnieder: Absolutely. We really want to make sure that while we’re talking to our customers about expanding and evolving and moving forward, that we make sure they have a full understanding of where they are at a baseline today, and that they’re able to fully leverage the investment they’ve already begun.

It’s interesting. It kind of relates to another topic that I’m very near and dear with, and that’s public safety solutions. There was a horrible death in Texas December 1st where a poor little girl watched her mother get killed in a hotel room, and didn’t know she needed to dial 9 for an outside line. And that prompted some meetings with the FCC and I put out a list of three simple things that could be turned on that people already own in their PBX: dialing 911 with or without an access code, turning on crisis alerts to know that the event happened, and then routing that call directly out to public safety. So it’s just another example of the power of the box, the power of the system that’s there that people bought and that wasn’t top of mind at the time. So it’s like, “Oh hey, look what’s laying in the closet here.”

Schnieder: Exactly. And that could take the form of everything from looking at least-cost routing using tail-end hop-off of remote gateways to a call center environment. Many customers we talked to today aren’t aware that Business Advocate is now an entitlement within your elite call center.

What does Business Advocate do?

Schnieder: Beyond the basic skills-based routing of Elite, Business Advocate provides for an additional, very advanced feature set: service level, prioritization within the call center, a host of new ways to approach and prioritize your VIP callers, treat your call center in slightly a different way instead of most idle agent.

That’s where the power of a call center really comes into play. We used to call them call centers, and then we started calling them contact centers, and now I hear them called interaction centers because that’s what it’s now really turning into because we’re looking at all this big data that’s available. But you have to be able to have the applications to deal with all that. Again, stuff that is built into the platforms that just need to be activated.

Schnieder: Exactly.

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5 Things CIOs Must Do Immediately to Stay Relevant in Today's Environment

In most organizations today, CIOs are being asked to define in plain terms disruptive trends like IoT, Cloud, Big Data, analytics and others. CIOs are also expected to figure out what these trends mean to their organizations and go the last mile of transforming these inevitabilities into real business opportunities.

This is a new role for CIOs, who had previously just been in charge of managing IT and day-to-day operations. The CIO and his or her team are no longer the “back office.” Businesses assume a lot more from IT today, and the CIO is expected to add commercial value to their organization. In fact, the CIO is at the heart of this digital transformation.

When a CMO is being pressured by technology-empowered customers–whose knowledge of the company’s products might exceed their own–digital business engagement becomes the CMO’s main strategic imperative. If the company doesn’t adopt appropriate digital tools, chances are customers will leave. In this scenario, the CMO has a choice: turn to the CIO, or get external help.

Let’s look at the top 5 things today’s CIO must start doing immediately to continue being relevant to the modern organization:

#5: Accept and Own

The debate over whether today’s successful organization needs to have a solid digital strategy is gone, so accept it, own it, and drive it.

Who better than the CIO knows how to bridge the silos in their organization’s functional departments, create seamless digital touchpoints, and eventually, build an omnichannel experience that delivers a consistent, world-class customer engagement platform?

If you have a solid information and communication technology strategy that details how to efficiently use current technologies, go ahead and own the digital strategy. It starts and ends with the customer–how else can the enterprise experience top-line growth?

#4: Have an Open Mind

CIOs must take a hard look at how effective their business unit is. What is the CMO’s objectives? How do those objectives line up with Finance? It’s not all about cutting costs! The CFO will be convinced if sustainable growth and profitability patterns are proven.

The CIO’s job is more than pushing EDM campaigns, or requesting discounts for IT projects. The CIO must understand, align and drive the realization of the big picture in every strategic function of the organization. In a recent report, the Economist found just 37 percent of CIOs consider incorporating new technologies in their business a “high priority.” While being risk-adverse is not always bad, it can severely impact innovation.

#3: Create “Business Engineers”

CIOs must find advocates for change inside their organizations. That process begins inside the IT department, but if the CIO looks hard enough, they’ll no doubt find additional change agents across the business. For transformation to happen, the CIO must engage constituents across the company, changing the mindsets of not only their direct reports, but regional offices overseas. It’s time to create “business engineers,” who can help make that transformation a reality.

#2: Consider an Advisory Board

Gary Wimberly, the CIO of Express Scripts (the 20th-largest company on the Fortune 500) is a strong advocate for having trusted advisors who are capable of enhancing throughput and helping the CIO improve the rate of innovation. Wimberly believes his advisory board helped Express Scripts lower the cost of IT across the board.

CIOs must choose their trusted advisors carefully, and evaluate those relationships regularly. In research done by CIO magazine, 46 percent of CIOs said they considered their vendors truly strategic partners–defined as “an important vendor that has gone beyond effective delivery of systems and services to become a consistently transparent, responsive and trusted collaborator.” It’s important for CIOs to build an advisory board who they can rely on to support them in realizing their vision, while also re-electing when necessary.

So go ahead and elect your “advisory board” who you can always rely on to support you in realizing your vision, but re-elect when necessary.

#1: Believe in Yourself

Change is inevitable, and if not managed well, the results could be catastrophic. Who can understand and create value from a company’s IT investments if not the CIO? The company can talk about the digital transformation, and draw their customers’ digital journey all they want, but the only person capable of acting on the digital business and driving disruptive change is the CIO.

In his book “CIO Leading Change: in the digital economy,” Kapil Dev Singh believes only the CIO can “crystallize the perspectives, thoughts and practical frameworks related to the digital initiatives.”

In a white paper released by Earnst & Young, researchers say they believe CIOs are the most capable to handle digital change–and why not? IT sits at the heart of many business units, from marketing and HR to supply chain management, and is uniquely positioned to lead change inside the organization.

At the 2015 Gartner Symposium/ITxpo Middle East on May 19-21 in Dubai, CIOs will learn how to transform and adapt to the changing world around them and how to remain not only relevant, but an essential asset to their organization. I and a number of my peers have built a track record in helping CIOs and organizations transform. Drop by and have a chat with the Avaya team.

Enterprise Connect 2014: Avaya Cloud UC Triumphs in the 'Game of CIOs'

At Enterprise Connect 2014 last week, a mock Request for Proposal (RFP) was held. This is a simulation of the large contracts that companies and governmental agencies will put out for bidding by vendors, who compete on providing the best technology architecture, features and total cost of ownership (TCO, typically over a 3-5 year period).

iron throne Pat Loika Flickr

Pat Loika/Flickr

I called it ‘The Game of CIOs,’ in homage to a favorite TV show, when I wrote about the RFP competition last year. Avaya did well then, winning one of the three RFPs, deploying an all-new on-premises UC system for 2,000 employees, and scoring among the top in the other two competitions, including beating Cisco in the crucial RFP for deploying UC on top of an existing PBX.

Rob McMaher, chief architect and consultant in the Office of the CTO at Avaya, oversaw Avaya’s entry last year and this year. This year, Avaya placed second in the competition overseen by UC consultant David Stein for the on-premises UC RFP, again, beating out Cisco, he said. More impressively, Avaya took first in the RFP for cloud-based UC for 2,000 employees, beating out Alcatel-Lucent, Shoretel and Thinking Phone Networks.

Avaya Cloud RFP Competition 2014 Enterprise Connect

McMaher said Avaya won on technical grounds because of its reliability (better than five 9s uptime), elegant design and all-inclusive stack of products down to the networking gear and session border controllers, while our suite licensing helped us win on TCO.

Avaya Cloud RFP Competition 2014 Enterprise Connect 2

As a cloud solution, it was assumed that some portions such as the telephones would be purchased, while most of the external data center-based services would be leased.

If you’d like to learn more about our cloud offerings, download the entire deck here from SlideShare. And look for the Cloud guidebook to be published by Avaya next month.

Avaya CEO Kevin Kennedy at Enterprise Connect 2014: How Fabric Connect Eliminates Network Suffering

Are networks complicated these days? You bet.

The demands have never been higher, as an explosion of applications over a multitude of devices call for ever-growing bandwidth. People want voice, video and apps, and they want them now.

That was certainly evident at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, where Avaya provided a 54-Terabit infrastructure upon which the crucial Olympic Family network rested—delivering 36 channels of live TV and Internet connectivity to athletes, officials and journalists.

“Sochi was a success in simplicity,” said Avaya President and CEO Kevin Kennedy, during his keynote address this week at Enterprise Connect. “We handled the equivalent of three Super Bowls-worth of traffic for 17 days.”

Analyst Zeus Zerravala agreed: “This is where the industry needs to put more focus.”

Each Olympics brings fresh networking challenges. At Sochi, tens of thousands of devices connected to the Olympic Family network each day. This time around, roughly 70 percent of all traffic was wireless. Just four years ago, at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the ratio was flipped, with roughly 70 percent of network connections being fixed.

“Sochi was a bold set of choices, to cap the status quo and to move to an aggressive and application-friendly future,” Kennedy said. “Applications are what it’s about. That’s what people use, that’s where the velocity is, and that’s where the money is. That’s our user experience.”

Avaya CEO Kevin Kennedy at Enterprise Connect 2014

Networking has traditionally been monolithic, with legacy companies building the entire technology stack. That rigid networking design may have worked in the past—in a world with strict client-server computing—but they struggle to handle today’s dynamic, application-driven demands.

“From the communications layers, to the applications layers, today, we are be-riddled with a constellation of applications, each with their own administrative domains,” Kennedy said. As a result, “many of us find ourselves in an unsustainable operational IT cul-de-sac…one that stalls our ability to roll out applications. Our complexity, after three decades of client-server computing and walking into a world of publish-and-subscribe applications – is hitting an unsustainable moment in time.”

The monoliths of the past are being broken down, particularly as various slices of the networking stack become commoditized, making technology more affordable.

“It costs money to do these things and when you do an Olympics, you don’t have an unlimited amount of time,” Kennedy pointed out. “If you don’t meet the schedule or it doesn’t work, everybody knows. The choice was: Do we continue the status quo? And the status quo is one that we in the enterprise world are familiar with.”

The solution was Avaya Fabric Connect, which uses network virtualization and cloud computing to create an easily-scalable networking solution.

“It’s an edge-only configuration,” he explained. “Define your service. It’s built on a protocol called Shortest-Path Bridging, which starts with the belief that you have ubiquitous Ethernet; you have ubiquitous mobility. You have V-LANs that scale from 4,000 to over 16 million, and now I can establish a service layer, administer it once, and have that service roll out across my network. You remove the number of steps; you remove the number of errors.”

The result was a “a great and stunning performance: 100 percent uptime. Six 9s availability,
one 9 improvement over the prior Olympics. 3-to-1 peak average

So is there still room for innovation and growth?

“I think the industry is ready for yet one more wave of productivity,” Kennedy said. “That tends to be an infrastructure today not even managed by many of our CIO infrastructures. Every software piece of infrastructure today has to enable itself, as well as applications in multimode environments, whether it be cloud, hosted, or just virtualized.”

The IT infrastructure must be application-friendly to enable all of these.

“Our job is to make sure we create more oxygen, so that those applications have a friendly IT environment, so they can prosper and grow,” Kennedy said. “You should expect from Avaya that we will continue to give you the opportunity for simplification.

“Whether it’s acquisition costs, operating costs or total cost of ownership, the impact to you can be very, very significant in terms of savings over the status quo,” he continued. “These are the opportunities Avaya is trying to deliver to you each and every day.”