Avaya’s small biz phone ploy makes unified communication easy

I’m not thrilled that Avaya calls its phone line Unified Communications for Small Business, because “Unified Communications” normally means putting all your communication eggs in one basket. You know, e-mails and voice mails and faxes and the like in your inbox. But, I like the fact Avaya surveyed small businesses and then changed its product to reflect what those small businesses said.

Geoffrey Baird, vice president and general manager of Avaya’s Appliances, Mobile and Small Systems Division, said the company surveyed small business (less than 100 employees) and midsize (100-1000 employees). I think 1,000 employees is a sure sign of a large business, but the small business definition works for me. Most of the survey respondents had between 20 and 80 employees.

Being a big company (actually, pretty huge), Avaya thinks in terms of lost productivity while small businesses tend to think of “what I have to do to make up for sick coworkers.”

Not surprisingly, sick days drop “productivity” or “raise workload” for small businesses. The survey adds “employee stress” to “sick days” which is a new one on me. Stress allows you to not work? I thought people got stress from too much work.

Missed work for whatever reason (including the 20 per cent of small businesses hurt by bad weather six or more days per year), costs big money. Avaya’s answer? Make it easier to be part of the company phone system whether you’re at work, at home or on your cell phone.

To Avaya, Unified Communications means tying together the office, cell and computer-based soft phones. If you can talk through it, Avaya can hook it up to your office system. While none of its new products are “never seen before” new, they are newly bundled, newly organized and now cost less (Compare unified communications products).

One of the great advantages of VoIP phones is the ability to link phones, no matter where they are, to your office system. Home office phones can be office extensions with a bit of configuration. Cell phones can ring at the same time as your office phone, so you can answer the same call on either piece of hardware. And Avaya extends the same capabilities to softphones, the ones running on your computer.

To help the office phone at home scenario, Avaya builds a VPN client into the IP Phone hardware itself. Take the phone home (couldn’t resist) and plug it into your broadband router, and the VPN client automatically establishes an encrypted link back to the office system for secure calls. Many home routers can do this, but few users know how to set that up or don’t want to dedicate their home router for only office work. The Avaya phone hardware makes security easy, a giant plus for businesses of all sizes.

Do you have traveling employees? Use the cell phone “twinning” feature and their pocket phone becomes an office extension. Employees in remote offices? The VPN client in the phone hardware makes it easier to connect a remote phone securely to the office system. Bad weather? Everyone’s cell phone or soft phone on their computer can become an office phone, and work can continue. After all, if you sell over the Web, customers won’t know you have bad weather and will expect their products or services no matter what.

Prices are down a US$100 or more for phone connection licenses. Baird swears his reseller channel, all 2,000 plus of them worldwide, are happy to lose individual license margins because more companies will now buy the systems. That sounds like typical vice president talk, but Avaya does claim over 120,000 systems installed supporting over 4 million users.

Resellers should like the new, easier installation offered by the IP Office upgrade. What used to include three products, three order codes and three installation guides, along with over 300 pages of installation instructions, got much simpler. Now there’s one order code and one 20 page installation guide. For the end user, there’s at least one hundred dollars less out of pocket.

Another interesting bit from the company’s survey: 70 per cent of small businesses would permit a permanent home office option (telecommuting) for employees in order to avoid an expensive office expansion and/or relocation. Money certainly talks, and if your type of small business can support remote workers, let that money talk from a home office.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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