The Continuant Blog

Avaya System Owners at a Crossroads

By Bruce Shelby -->

The Telecom Industry is Always Changing

As my first job out of college, I sold business telephone systems in the Southern California market. “Selling” in those days—the year was 1984—meant using up a lot of shoe leather, knocking on doors to find companies that wanted to buy new telephone systems, many for the very first time.

That’s because most companies back then were still renting AT&T systems from Pac Bell.  I used to zero in on companies that were using the old Horizon systems, because the rental fee was very steep and the system functionality was poor. There were even some companies using cord boards!  For a small town kid right out of college, working in Los Angeles was nothing short of a culture shock. A bit star-struck, I really loved working with customers in the entertainment industry, selling systems to companies like Amblin Entertainment (which, at the time, was Stephen Spielberg’s new company) and Weintraub Entertainment. 

Fast forward a decade.  In the mid-90s the company I helped found, Continuant (originally named Telecom Labs, or TLI), became a Lucent dealer.  The quality of Lucent’s products, was, I believed, the finest in the industry.  Equally impressive was Lucent’s world-class service and support. 

Avaya Enters The Market

Lucent_Technologies_logoIn 2000, Lucent spun off the division that manufactured business telephone systems, essentially creating the company known as Avaya—a name that conjured up images of a mythical deity dressed all in red. Avaya, at first the darling of the telecom industry, got hit hard during the dotcom recession, undergoing round after round of heavy layoffs, as did many others in the telecom industry.  Over the next few years, many of us in the Avaya dealer channel (what Avaya dubbed “BusinessPartners”) began to notice a significant degradation in Avaya’s service levels. 

At Continuant, we saw an opportunity to begin offering maintenance and support contracts for Avaya systems as a Third Party Maintenance (TPM) provider, or Independent Service Provider (ISP).  We brought on maintenance contract customers that frequently had been using AT&T/Lucent/Avaya service/support contracts for decades.  TPM was new to the Avaya user community at that time.  We have thrived as a TPM provider and ISP for nearly 20 years now. 

Third Party Maintenance Takes Hold

Certainly one of the turning points in our company’s history occurred in 2004, when we started bringing on Fortune 500 clients such as 3M (#97), Tenet Healthcare (#147), Envision Healthcare Corporation (#198), Ball Corporation (#277) and Genesis Healthcare (#454).  We have been adding more clients like these companies ever since. In fact, we used to joke around a bit that we were more well-known nationally (now globally) than we were in our own back yard!    

Reflecting back on what made the difference, what won us the business, I’m reminded of one trip in particular, when I traveled to Minneapolis to meet with 3M. At the time, 3M had about 50 Avaya systems, and another 20 that were Nortel or Siemens.  What was clear to me at the time, and what earned us the business, was that we were able to provide a uniform high level of service on the disparate systems, thus helping 3M go from three vendors with three contracts to a single vendor with a single co-terminous contract. 

The same thing happened is 2004 when I traveled to Dallas to meet with Tenet.  They had previously been with a third-party maintenance provider that had an “insurance model” – not the full-service model that we have.  Tenet was unhappy with the previous provider.  It took a while to gain Tenet’s trust, but they eventually placed all of their Avaya maintenance and support with us, including hospitals in Texas, California, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Florida. When it came to delivering better maintenance and support than the OEM, Continuant was clearly on top of its game.New customers continued to come on board..  Most of our new enterprise customers, such as American Medical Response (now Envision Healthcare)—where we won a contract to support all of AMR’s mission-critical Avaya and Nortel contact centers—to Denver-based Ball Corporation (the first Fortune 500 company to trust us with all of their Avaya systems) and Philadelphia-based Genesis Healthcare appreciated our expertise and “white glove” service. 

And so, for 20 years now, we have thrived as a TPM provider and ISP.  In addition to the Fortune 500 clients like 3M (#97), Tenet Healthcare (#147), Ball Corporation (#277) and Genesis Healthcare (#454) 15 years ago, we have been adding similar clients ever since. 

The Difficult Decision For Avaya System Owners

Today, however, many Avaya system owners are at a crossroads. Why?  Avaya’s recent financial woes, coupled with its software support strategy, have together forced many Avaya system owners to make a very difficult decision.

crossroads blog graphicTake a turn to the right and you will choose to invest a lot of money in your Avaya systems, both in terms of upgrades and very expensive software support.  This could be a good decision for some companies.  Take a turn to the left and you will choose to replace your Avaya systems, most frequently with solutions from Cisco and/or Microsoft.  For Avaya system owners who take that turn to the right, an Avaya support contract may be the best option.  For customers who turn left, TMP can provide tremendous value, with significantly higher service levels and contracts that are far less expensive.  In Continuant’s case, for companies that choose to “turn left,” we will also partner with you to transition to your new systems, even providing help with Day 1 and Day 2 support during the transition. 

Is TPM ideal for all Avaya system owners?  No, it isn’t.  Some Avaya system owners have chosen to “turn right” and make long-term commitments to utilize Avaya systems.  A part of this long-term commitment includes upgrading to the most recent version of Avaya CM.  New versions include mandatory software support.  Avaya has priced its software support at a very high level.  While it is not impossible to combine Avaya mandatory software support and TPM, it can be problematic, and I will describe that more in the future.  Avaya’s software support “strategy” is very different from that of leaders like Cisco.  

No doubt that TPM merits careful consideration and evaluation by the Avaya system owner.  In future blogs, we’ll cover a range of topics related to Avaya, and take a good hard look at how Avaya has positioned itself in the UC world of the future—a world, I might add, that is dominated by Cisco (for the past decade) and Microsoft (in the decade to come).  Let us know what topics interest you. Send me a quick message via our contact page.

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