Avaya offers customers "presence"

TORONTO (02/24/2004) - In an effort to allow organizations to gain more control over the multiple devices being used within the company, Avaya Inc. introduced new software, applications and phones on Monday.

According to Avaya, its new converged communications solutions integrate Internet applications, including instant messaging, with voice and telephone features such as conferencing and voice mail. Avaya said the benefit of its solutions will come in the form of a reduction in the amount of time it takes for colleagues to obtain information and make decisions.

The key to Avaya's announcements is the fact that it has integrated session initiation protocol (SIP) -- a standard that enables users to conduct multimedia communications sessions -- into its family of IP-based MultiVantage Communications Applications.

According to Lawrence Byrd, convergence specialist at Avaya, by integrating SIP along with its "presence" functionality -- the capability that allows individuals to indicate their availability, the device they are using and how they want to be reached -- into its new products including Avaya's IP Softphone R5 with instant messaging (IM), will greatly boost productivity.

Byrd said the new functionality will allow workers to connect to fellow employees as if they are "looking over the cubicle" wall, even if the person in the cubicle next door is actually out of the country.

He noted that adding SIP to its line of products has "multi-modality benefits."

"It's allowing me to have different modes of communication working together, making me, as a user, more productive. The second benefit is by adopting a standard, we are helping the enterprise link together multi-vendor components," Byrd said.

"We are supporting different applications and different end-points that can now be linked together with Avaya software and linked together with existing telephony through the very tight links with Communication Manager," he noted.

Having standards-based protocols is essential because users aren't going to spend money if they aren't sure that their new product will integrate with other products, according to Roberta J. Fox, president and senior partner at Fox Group Consulting in Markham, Ont.

Fox said that not all the big manufacturers have SIP compliant products yet, but they are working towards it. She added that Avaya, Nortel Networks Corp. and Mitel Networks Co. probably care about SIP more than the others, which ties into the companies' corporate attitudes about interconnectivity.

"Some of the other companies don't really care if things interconnect. And the thing is, most of the enterprises I work with don't all have just one particular product or OEM manufacturer, especially with all the acquisitions and mergers, a lot of them have combined," Fox added.

Fox said the challenge Avaya is facing is to be able to translate the benefits of its new products into business language. "What does presence functionality mean, what does it give you, what does SIP give you?" she offered.

Avaya's Byrd said that its new Communication Manager will translate into benefits for customers in business language. He said that the new Manager will allow for the interoperation of different devices and applications from multiple vendors. "Because SIP is a standard that multiple vendors are adopting (such as) Microsoft (Corp.) and IBM (Corp.), it really offers a promise over time of all these things working together."

Fox said that another key advantage of having SIP installed is the opportunity of time savings, even if it is minimal.

"I think SIP, on the low end...if I have Outlook and I have my IP phone and I now have the SIP client on my desktop I will be able to pull up (a phone) number in Outlook and have it dial so I don't have to look back and forth from the number (on my screen) to my (keypad). Say I make 20 calls a day and it saves me three seconds, that's still a minute," Fox noted.

In regards to its presence functionality, Byrd said the idea arrived a lot from IM, to allow users to see the availability of their contacts, but additionally what type of device they are using. Byrd said that with presence, Avaya has combined IM presence with phone presence.

"I have a softphone on the screen now and I can see whether my colleagues are on the phone or off the phone, whether they are away, whether they are busy, whether in fact they are on line at all. So, I am seeing a combined presence. Presence is about accessibility. How I am accessible and through what modes," Byrd added.

Fox said that this presence functionality may turn some users off because of the "big brother watching you" aspect to the technology, but she added that the choice is also available to the user to "turn technology off."

"It eliminates telephone tag and things like that," Fox said. "There's lots of times when we are all waiting for a call and we leave our desks for a minute and we miss it. To be able to have your cell phone or your RIM (device) and just have it while you are going some place," is a benefit.

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