Avaya CTO Brett Shockley: 100% Focused on Solving Today's Key Business Problems

Brett Shockley is Senior Vice-President and Chief Technology Officer at Avaya. I spoke to Brett at the Avaya Evolutions San Francisco show last week. Below is a transcript of our conversation, where we talked about how Avaya’s Big Data technology is helping businesses solve their problems faster than before, and how its cloud-enabled developer platform, Collaboration Environment, is attracting fresh crops of young developers:

brett shockley avaya evolutions sf feb 2014

Avaya CTO Brett Shockley keynoting at Avaya Evolutions San Francisco.

Photo by Andres Larranaga


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Fletch: I always love coming to Avaya Evolutions because they’re really intimate settings, and you can have a lot of great conversations with customers.

Shockley: You’re absolutely right. I mean, we have an opportunity here to talk to over a thousand customers. We’re able to talk to our partners. And it’s a great opportunity to have conversations about what’s happening in our businesses, in our industry, and a number of different verticals.

I had a great conversation with a healthcare provider over lunch. They’re really on the leading edge of delivering video for telemedicine. They’re using Scopia video conferencing to deliver it. They have told us that it works better than any other technology on the planet that they’ve ever tried, including all of our major competitors because of the way we focused on this virtualized conference room infrastructure and ease with bringing lots of people in from different places on different devices.

Fletch: That’s a product with an incredible use case across a huge number of industries, like public safety, which I’m very involved with. Scopia is really going to change the way that we communicate.

Shockley: Our industry is changing at a very rapid pace. Mobile, video, cloud, big data analytics, the impact of consumer communication applications, they’re driving what is expected from an enterprise experience. For the first time in our history, our employees are telling us what device they’re going to use at work. We have our customers telling us how they’re going to communicate with us. This changes the nature of our business and changes the nature of conversations that we’re having. What it really means is that we can’t just focus on the traditional world of communications, but instead need to think about the business outcomes from improved communication, improved collaboration. Leveraging what we’re seeing work in the consumer world in the use of things like mobile and video. It means that we have to deliver much better and more tailored experiences.


Also read ‘The Entrepreneurial CTO’ Q&A in December’s Avaya Innovations.


You know, one of the things that I’m having a lot of fun talking to folks about is the customer journey and the ability to identify that customer from the first time you’re prospecting with them all the way through the work that you’re doing with them in acquiring, delivering and managing the account, and carrying it on through the lifecycle to when they buy from you again. New technologies are being used to do that, and they’re technologies that Avaya is very much a leader in. Things like data grid technology for Big Data analytics. We have an application called the Context Store that we’ve started delivering for some of our larger customers. It’s the same kind of technology that’s being used in financial trading applications. You can imagine they have to have very low latency, very large scale, and we’re applying that same technology to the Contact Center. One of the things that it does is provide a real-time store of information about the customer, sort of a 360-degree view of that customer. And think about it like a cache: it could live for a minute, an hour, or a week, and all the different applications that are being used to interact with the customer are reading and writing their information to this Context Store.

What that does is it lets us tie all those touch points together into one comprehensive experience regardless of whether they email you today, instant message you tomorrow, or call you the day after that. So we’re really tying all these things together, and what’s exciting about it is that it’s a different kind of conversation with the customer to achieve this. It’s not about, “Do you want to upgrade your phone system?” It’s not about adding to sort of traditional technology, speeds and feeds, features, etc. It’s about business use cases. You take a step back. You talk to a health care provider about how it can do an effective job of delivering health care through a community outreach service. Things like telemedicine become key there. How do they deliver a specialist to someone who has a chronic health care problem? It’s a single mother who unfortunately might have a child with cancer. You start thinking about solving those kinds of problems and bringing our technology to the table to be able to solve those problems. That’s a really different kind of conversation, and it’s an opportunity for us to really change not only the business of our customer, but the relationship that they have with their customers. And at the end of the day, that’s what’s going to make the difference in their business success.

Fletch: I think that’s a really noble thought, and I think that’s what’s driving the change that I see. I’ve been in this industry for two or three decades. I’ve seen a lot of different things come and go. I see this whole new Avaya emerging right now that just has been building and building and building. It’s just the time that it finally came out.

Shockley: Absolutely. We have been a leader in the unified communication and contact center space, the services that surround that, absolutely undisputed. Take a look at any analyst’s report. We’re in the upper right hand corner of the quadrant – thought leader, we deliver. But as we really grow the company we have to think beyond that. Some of the core areas of strategy for us this year: rapid growth in applications, both in terms of delivering end applications to customers that support the kinds of things I was just talking about, as well as the tools for people to create their own applications. So the work we’re doing with Collaboration Environment, as an example, that allows ISVs, VARs, our customers’ developers to quickly create very meaningful applications that are connected directly to the infrastructure associated with Avaya Aura. So you’ve got this ability to create scalable applications without really having to understand a lot of about communications. If you’re someone who’s recently out of school and you have some great web programming skills, you’re going to be able to step right into it and be able to do that. And if you think about why does that matter. Well, in our industry, forever we’ve had this challenge that if you want to program with our products or any of our competitors, to be honest, using technologies like CTI (Computer-Telephony Integration), it requires some very specialized and unique tools to be able to do that and it’s complex.

As a result, three kids out of college can’t go start a company and start selling to large enterprise customers. They have to basically go buy a half-million dollars worth of equipment, train themselves on new things that they didn’t learn in school. They have to hire some sales people that are going to convince our sales people that they’re worthy of being introduced to our enterprise accounts. A lot of barriers to growth, as compared to web world, for example, or the app world on mobile devices where a couple of guys can go create some amazing new application and they can get it distributed in a frictionless way. Well, you think about something like Collaboration Environment and now we have a world, especially where we have these cloud-based collaboratories, sand boxes in the sky, if you will, where, small groups of developers can come together. They can create applications that are meaningful in a business sense, and not worry so much about the underlying technology infrastructure. And because they can create them in the cloud-based collaboratory, they don’t have to go buy that half-million dollars worth of equipment to get started in writing applications.

The cloud provides a way for us to allow people to try new things, test new things, it’s much easier for us to connect that developer that created some cool new small application with a large enterprise, for example, or a mid-market enterprise that needs an application like that. And the technology allows you to string applications together. So this group creates one application, this other group creates another, we string them together and now we’re doing something totally different and very meaningful. So imagine bringing together workflow, SMS and text, notification of people, video, all of these things that are powerful, powerful collaboration tools. But in the past you sort of had to be really specialized to do it. Now we’re putting it into the hands of not just thousands but literally hundreds of thousands of developers potentially.

Fletch: So you’re taking the collaboratory and you’re changing BYOD from “Bring Your Own Device” to “Build Your Own Device”.

Shockley: Absolutely.

Fletch: I think that’s kind of cool. That’s really cool. It’s just another example of the innovation that Avaya brings to it that quite frankly makes me proud to be an Avaya employee. As our technology leader, thank you. It’s incredible vision and strategy.

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