Already a household name for enterprise-grade contact centers, a pair of recent announcements by Basking Ridge, N.J.–based communications company Avaya indicate yet another play to expand its footprint in the midmarket.
First, Avaya has acquired Agile Software NZ Ltd., a New Zealand–based company which developed Avaya's midmarket solution under the brand name Avaya Contact Center Express. Financial terms were not disclosed, but according to Avaya documents, the acquisition was completed through an Avaya subsidiary that previously owned approximately 23 percent of Agile Software, and is now acquiring the remaining 77 percent from Agile (NZ) Ltd.
According to Gwynne Wade, Avaya's vice president for the midmarket contact center segment, the acquisition is meant to give her company more control over the solution it brings to market. "We want to solidify our position in the midmarket space rather than leave it in the hands of our original equipment manufacturer," she says. "We have a very strong opinion about the direction of this market and how to win it. Avaya can bring more resources to the forefront to [support] this release."
Wade says that Avaya expects to utilize its contact center heritage to deliver enterprise-grade benefits to the midmarket space. "We want to deliver a solution that is easy to install [and] implement, partner-friendly, extensible, and…[able to] to add capabilities via application programming interfaces available," she says.
The other half of the announcement is the release of Contact Center Express 4, powered by Avaya Aura Communication Manager, its voice and video telephony software. New capabilities include:
- enhanced multimedia performance reporting, which can be customized by line-of-business users;
- speech self-service improvements, via integration with Avaya Voice Portal, its platform for automated voice, speech self-service, and video customer care; and
- more automated features, which are already commonplace in enterprise-grade contact center solutions, such as automatically scheduling a return call from a live agent.
Michael Barbagallo, senior analyst for contact center solutions at Current Analysis, explains that these initiatives tell him Avaya is serious about the midmarket contact center segment. "Avaya has had in the past five years or so mixed results in the midmarket, partly because it hadn't been able to settle on a product," he says. "With this release and the acquisition of Agile Software, it says to the market that Avaya finally has its act together and is diving into the pool head-first."
Sheila McGee-Smith, president of McGee-Smith Analytics, explains that Avaya started to sell Contact Center Express in 2004 as its flagship midmarket contact center solution, but then decommissioned it in favor of an offering named Customer Interaction Express, a product developed following the November 2004 acquisition of Tenovis GmbH & Co., a European provider of enterprise communications systems and services. "The good news is, during this time Agile never dropped [Contact Center Express]," she says. "So even though there was a two-year gap when it wasn't the flagship offering from Avaya, Agile was still working with it."
That isn't to say that Avaya can immediately rule the midmarket roost, Barbagallo insists. "They don't have any ideas that they will jump into this market and immediately become the number-one player again," he says. "The reputation is not an easy thing to overcome. Avaya knows it has to play catch-up."
The list of companies that Avaya will be trying to catch up to in the midmarket segment may be a matter of dispute, however. McGee-Smith points to Cisco Systems, Interactive Intelligence, and Aspect Software as direct competitors, but Barbagallo also cites Alcatel-Lucent, Siemens, Nortel Networks, Altitude Software, and Syntellect as others playing in this space. Both analysts point to integrated recording, quality monitoring, and workforce management systems in competitors' midmarket offerings -- in addition to presence technology -- as something Avaya must also deliver.
According to Wade, Avaya plans to address these shortcomings later this year, unveiling a midmarket platform for unified communications (UC) customers, bringing together presence technology and Communication Manager and Called Party Identification capabilities on a single server via virtualization. "The plan is to also take Contact Center Express and put it onto a virtualized single platform for the customer -- whether [that customer] want[s] to use a UC solution, contact center solution, or both," she says. "Midmarket customers need the flexibility and functionality of enterprise-grade solutions, but cannot afford the resources for information technology, infrastructure, and back-end integration."
While contending that Avaya still has a great deal of work to do in the midmarket, Barbagallo says the company's latest moves represent an important first step toward getting back in the game. "The big thing is, [Avaya's] made the commitment and is going forward," he says. "This is the product the company is going to go with…and while there are little loose ends, this is a solid release."
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