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Avaya-Nortel roadmap shows no clear path to UC in the contact center

Bringing unified communications into the contact center remains more an idea than a reality, and some believe that the combined Avaya-Nortel won't change that dramatically.

Avaya this week outlined its product roadmap for integrating the technology of Nortel Networks, but while both companies had unified communications (UC) and contact center technology, the combined technology is unlikely to bring the two closer together.

"Avaya's roadmap announcements, while touching on UC quite often, seemed likely to shift the debate more towards the role of SIP," Ian Jacobs, senior analyst at Ovum, wrote in an email interview. "Avaya had already been throwing development resources into making SIP the heart of its contact center routing and applications story (as well as the heart of its broader enterprise communications play); this roadmap puts SIP front and center as the core of future development and of the migration path for Nortel technology and customers."

Avaya bought Nortel's enterprise solutions business in July for $475 million. Earlier this week, the company outlined how it will combine the two technologies. The unified communications piece will be based on Avaya Aura, a SIP-based communication platform that provides an upgrade path for Nortel UC and voice customers, according to Avaya. Avaya Aura will be combined with the Avaya (formerly Nortel) Agile Communications Environment, which uses service-oriented architecture and Web service to facilitate development of communications-enabled applications.

As for the contact center, Aura will also sit at the center of that portfolio. Contact centers will move toward a SIP-based, service-oriented architecture, supporting multiple modes of communication, Avaya says. The roadmap calls for combining the two companies' agent desktop, work assignment, experience management and analytics applications.

The communications-enabled applications hold some real promise for the combined products, according to Bern Elliott, vice president and distinguished analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.

"Nortel has a good toolset and integration environment, and Avaya is bringing that forward. So I expect a continued strong integration of applications with the contact center," Elliott said. "Those same interfaces can be used for integrating with enterprise communications. I would expect we're going to see strong integration capabilities between applications and the next-generation Avaya Aura solutions."

That, therefore, holds some promise for bringing unified communications into the contact center.

"Unified communications in the contact center is a fairly targeted type of functionality," Elliott said. "We're going to see a better integration overall because Avaya has a strong contact center capability and strong UC offering. They're going to be devoting effort to bringing those two together."

The hurdle will be Avaya's plans to bring together the technology of the two companies, something that has been an issue for Oracle as it seeks to combine its many acquisitions into Fusion applications.

"Although the speed of the roadmap -- both its creation and its aggressive timelines -- [is] unusual for acquisitions on this scale, it is still unlikely that this will spur adoption of UC in contact centers," Jacobs wrote. "Technology vendors can paint rosy pictures, create wonderfully
persuasive ROI calculators, present innumerable case studies detailing exquisite implementations that drive deepened customer intimacy -- and contact centers will still be fairly conservative and slow to change."

Avaya's competitors were eager to point out the company's challenges in the wake of the roadmap announcement this week. In a statement released to the press, a group of executives from Aspect criticized the lack of detail on outbound capabilities and workforce optimization.

"Even coupled with Nortel’s UC capabilities, Avaya’s Aura Communication Server, Modular Messaging UM product, and Interaction Center do not provide complete unified communications features and functionality, and are missing some specific detail on the collaboration capabilities that Avaya will be bringing to market around things like email, messaging and tools like SharePoint," Aspect wrote. "We’ve seen some recent major collaboration announcements from Microsoft and Cisco, but limited information from Avaya at this point."

While UC has been left largely to the networking providers, the enterprise application vendors still need to take notice, whether they plan to develop their own UC capabilities or partner to bring their applications into the contact center.

"I don't think they should be ignoring [Avaya-Nortel], but it depends on how they seek to enter this market," Elliott said. "It may make sense for them to leverage platforms companies already have. I think that they're going to want to go back through the same process they went through initially. Write at a lower level into the communications server or a higher level which would then use the Avaya tools but isolate them from any changes going ahead."

Customers, for their part, will want to watch what happens with services, according to Jacobs.

"Aspect has been flexing its services muscles around UC and Microsoft," he wrote. "Despite Nortel's former Microsoft alliance, Avaya [is] not, and likely will not be, married to Microsoft. So, the two companies will have a different approach to UC and services. Still, those competing approaches give customers plenty of options."

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