There's lots of buzz about Avaya's new Aura Session Manager announced earlier today and for good reason. Aura seems to provide a new paradigm offering a common programming interface into PBXs and social media. Developers can use Aura to create a single application that could blend telephony and presence with information from Facebook.:
"A traditional communications session could be augmented with a social network profile on the participants," writes Allan Sulkin at No Jitter, "This would enhance the communications experience by providing more useful contextual information about the session parties than currently provided by relatively simple Calling Party ID or Name information. In theory, customized widgets to social network home pages could also be added to facilitate real-time communications and enrich customer service transactions."
Bells and whistles aside, today's market wants cost cutting measures not productivity enhancements and the sales on that score are going to be a harder argument for Avaya. Just look at Covergence. The company has been selling a PBX-independent mediation point for more than two years now. Like Aura, the Covergence Session Manager also provides a Web 2.0 interface that allows Widgets to run across Cisco and other PBXs. Covergence never added the social media integration for a lack of demand, says Rod Hodgman, vice president of marketing for Covergence.
The similarity between the two platforms shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. Rumor has it that Avaya was close to partnering with and potentially even buying Covergence until two years ago. Avaya broke off the relationship and went off to develop its own solution.
Anyway, Covergence avoids the productivity argument because it is such a tough sell and today focuses on cost savings. The argument goes something like this. Instead of paying for telecom ports and new telephones organizations can massively cut costs by outfitting users with thin-clients that run in a Web browser against the Covergence platform.
It's a compelling argument, but one that I think Avaya would find more difficult to make for three reasons. For one, a huge integration challenge lies ahead for Avaya if the company is going to tie into the hundreds of PBXs within a large enterprise. No wonder the announcement pointed to Avaya Strategic Consulting, which will probably become a bigger revenue generator than Aura sales.
Furthermore, Avaya must sell organizations that an enterprise application supplier is a better partner to front end infrastructure than Cisco. That's not going to be easy.
Finally, while a small third-party, like Covergence, can argue for port and phone reductions it's going to be much harder for Avaya, where selling ports and phones still make up a substantial portion of the business, to make that argument. Certainly, there will be other areas where Avaya can show cost reductions, but at some point it's going to have to address those critical areas as well.