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What one firm’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy means for large enterprise transformation

Twitter: @brdavies

Maybe it’s time to start your communications digital transformation…

Much has been written recently about Avaya’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy announcement and the nervousness of some customers regarding their existing PBXs (Private Branch Exchanges). This just highlights the danger of a strong dependence on any single vendor. The problem is that, as an enterprise, you may want to make a change but have little interest in buying a whole new set of desk phones, installing another premises-based PBX, or paying for an expensive hosted option.

In addition, there has been a fundamental shift in what enterprise communication platforms need to provide given the trend towards enterprise digital transformation. Since the focus of digital transformation is on the business functions themselves, a unified communications suite that stands alone as a silo – proclaiming itself to be king - is inconsistent with digital transformation goals. Instead, communications functions should be embedded directly into business applications to create a holistic and seamless experience for the customer and company’s employees. In fact, it is essential.

Put concretely, a bank could develop a tablet-based banking application that displays the telephone number for a customer to call. Or instead, it could embed communications into the app itself so that the customer can call the bank by pressing a button, and automatically get routed to the right person. Which of these is a more seamless experience? This idea extends throughout the various touch points a customer has with any enterprise.

Most unified communications vendors continue to offer solutions in a model that mimics the PBX business model – a PBX in the cloud, with its silo approach and resulting inflexibility. Their claim to openness quickly evaporates when you ask if you can continue to use your Avaya desk sets with their solution. They have partner ecosystems, but in a controlled fashion so that a vendor change usually means a change in ecosystems as well. So, replacing your legacy PBX estate – something that is becoming more and more urgent – is a forklift upgrade. The only difference is that what’s being dropped in is a cloud-based solution.

In my conversations with enterprises and industry analysts, it’s become clear that we need to introduce a new approach within the enterprise – a horizontal communications ‘plane’ that interfaces to multivendor services on the application side, and to different types of communication endpoints on the access side.  This integrated communications plane would provide an interconnection function to allow services to flow across not only all the existing devices, but the business applications as well. Capabilities we associate with unified communications then become just features that are placed where needed through the business. Of course, there would still be the need for something that acts like a traditional UC (Unified Communications) endpoint – in the form of a soft client / collaboration client. But the form of this might vary even within the same enterprise across departments.

No need to upgrade all at once

Another major need is for the transformation problem to be partitioned. Rather than trying to justify a UC communications upgrade that takes five years and costs tens to hundreds of millions, the model needs to allow piecemeal deployment. For example, start by replacing only the legacy PBXs with a cloud-based alternative, at a cost that fits within the current maintenance budget. Then once that project is finished, create a new one that transforms a targeted portion of the business. Smaller, self-contained projects like this reduce risk and create a much closer and demonstrable tie between the investment and the return. In this way they are easier to get approved, removing the paralysis that IT organizations are currently facing.

It should be clear that most vertically integrated unified communication offers don’t fit this model. If the vendor treats the UC offer as a free standing, all-in-one integrated application, none of these attributes will be available. Rather, the vendor must treat the UC offer as a horizontal cloud-based service with APIs, and with open interfaces for easy integration to both business applications and other vendor products. There are a few of these on the market today, including Nokia Rapport Enterprise Communications.

The risk to large enterprises coming from vendor instability cannot be avoided, but it presents an opportunity to launch a communications transformation. With a plan that compartmentalizes the cost and risk, you can put forward a proposal to remove the legacy PBX infrastructure without breaking the bank, and at the same time position the network for incremental change that supports the broader transformation strategy. The time is right to float a business case on the subject.

I recommend two excellent articles from contributors to for further reading. The first is from Steve Leaden of Leaden Associates, and discusses the need for Avaya users to create contingency plans. The second, from Irwin Lazaar of Nemertes covers various options and issues about where Avaya may go from here.

Learn more about Nokia Rapport on our website.

Share your thoughts on this topic by replying below – or join the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks using #enterprise #UC

Bryan R. Davies

About Bryan R. Davies

Bryan supports Nokia’s 4G and 5G core portfolio marketing programs. Over his 35-year career in the telecom industry, he has held a variety of roles helping to design the first soft switch systems, architect IMS networks, lead international technical sales teams, and now help to envision and explain the industry’s 5G future.

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