Avaya Opens Up Another Space For UC - Meeting New People With "Virtual" Group Conferencing

16 Feb 2011

I don't know about you, but there is so much change going on with business communication technologies in the evolution to a "unified communications" (UC) environment, that it is hard to keep up with all the products and services that are being announced. This is particularly true because "UC" is subsuming all kinds of telephony usage and is being applied to every aspect of communication technologies with people, including network infrastructures, mobile multimodal endpoint devices, business process application integrations, and multimedia end user interfaces.

Who Will Control the UC Market?

Although I am interested in the technology startups that develop new UC capabilities that will directly benefit individual end users or enterprise management, I pay particular attention to the leading technology providers that already have large installed business organization customer bases. They will be the ones that can stay out in front of the evolving "business UC market," providing that their products and services stay tuned into what different types of end users really need and want in order to flexibly initiate or respond to multi-modal contacts with other people and/or self-service applications.

From a telephony perspective, it's all about migrating from the limitations and culture of legacy wired, desktop TDM telephony and conversational voice to mobile and multimodal SIP-based connections, where unified communication applications can take hold. Voice conferencing for group discussions and presentations long ago shifted to Internet web conferencing and webinars, so I was curious to see what Avaya's latest announcement about web.alive in the enterprise space was bringing to the UC table. (Like many other new application product/service offerings, the names given to them are not very descriptive and "web.alive" is no exception.)

Web.alive Virtual Voice Conferencing

The "alive" label seems to be the latest buzzword to discuss real-time communications and interactions between people. According to Avaya, here's what's new for them for their web.alive offering in business group voice conferencing:

"The new purchasing options make Avaya web.alive available as a service through a monthly subscription for individual hosts or via annual concurrent user based pricing. Business organizations can also opt to install and manage the software on their own servers. The flexibility of purchase options enables any size business or organization to use Avaya web.alive for meetings, training, or sales and service opportunities involving both internal and external participants."

"In addition to the purchasing options, new features and capabilities in Avaya web.alive include:

  • New 3D audio engine for dramatic spatial audio that helps participants better identify and understand who is speaking and their location within the environment

  • Built-in collaboration tools including desktop sharing and cooperative web browsing

  • Avaya Aura SIP interface for integration with existing communications infrastructure enabling participants to join a collaboration session via the telephone or inside of the web.alive environment

  • New templates that make it easy to design environments that meet the needs of a company or host

  • Downloadable SDK to enable customers or hosts toindependently create and upload their own custom content

  • Analytics that providethedata to enhance collaboration, selling or learning efforts. For example, insight can be gained into traffic and conversation patterns, sales and presentation effectiveness, travel savings, etc. The notification engine can email contact center agents when customers have entered an Avaya web.alive sales or service."

As you can see, Avaya is capitalizing on its experience, market share, in legacy in legacy voice telephony to upgrade telephone conferencing with greater operational flexibility, manageability, and lower costs. These are all useful benefits for business organizations that have to deal with remote end users, whether inside or outside of the organization. The latter is particularly important for supporting business partners and customers, who will be communicating with a variety of endpoint devices and services that are not controllable by the sponsoring enterprise. However, their traffic analytics technology can monitor any form of contact from the outside and automatically notify appropriate staff personnel (contact center agents, subject matter experts, operational management, etc.) if live assistance is needed.

So, What's Really New?

From an end user perspective, which I really look for in driving demand and adoption of anything new in business operations, Avaya has facilitated easy access to any audience members who want to participate in group presentations and discussions. In addition to traditional "virtual' web conferencing facilities, they allow audience members to interact on a "face-to-face" basis, but without the expense and effort of a video conference.

The web.alive platform also enables a variety of UC-based messaging activities that are controllable by the individual conference participants as either contact initiators or recipients within a common context of the web presentation. This pays off in less travel cost and business process performance time, as well as convenience for end users who are increasingly remote, in other organizations, and even mobile. This makes it ideal for a public, "cloud-based" service rather than a premise-based, enterprise responsibility.

Replacing Live Conference and Trade Show Meetings?

A good characterization of what web.alive does differently is to allow end users of any type to participate in the audience, but also selectively "collaborate" with other individuals in an online conference without necessarily having a relationship beforehand or being in a particular location. That is what attracts people to attend trade shows where individual attendees can find new people to talk to and exchange information without scheduling a meeting first. All they have to do is be available and communication accessible at the same time, which means that contacts can also be made with "experts," who are not necessarily attending audience members.

From a UC perspective, the ability to exploit email, IM, SMS, etc. for such new ad hoc contacts is a big plus, because two-way, real-time voice conversations are more difficult to do instantly all the time and appropriate for simple information exchange and collaborative work. Talking may also be inappropriate while listening to a group presentation or discussion. Such different contacts can be initiated separately and concurrently by the audience individuals involved, not just by the speakers or presenters

The "immersive" use of 3D spatial audio and video avatars is an attempt at recreating the face-to-face conference environment, but the use of face-to-face avatars doesn't do much for me. I would be satisfied with a real-time voice conversation and the display of information related to the subject at hand, rather than watching an avatar. (Although if you wanted to watch the reaction of a group of people in the audience who are not talking, the avatar approach might be one way to try to do that using some form of automated "group assessment" of facial reactions.)

What About Customer Interactions?

What is most important from an implementation perspective is that Avaya is expanding its real-time telephony technology to a supplementary, UC-based, open and flexible conferencing service offering that accommodates all types of end users from anywhere, including enterprise customers, with lower pricing and ease of integration with legacy phone systems.

Just as webinars have exploded to help educate individual end users and business customers, the expanded capabilities of web.alive can make voice conferencing much more personalized, flexible, reactive, economical, and productive than in the past. So take a look at it from the perspective of a step forward with UC in any group conferencing environment.

What Do You Think?

You can contact me at: [email protected] or (310) 395-2360.

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