Avaya Guns for Nortel: Whats in Store for Partners?

Kelly Teal, Contributing Editor

July 21, 2009

4 Min Read
Avaya Guns for Nortel: Whats in Store for Partners?

Avaya Inc. has a lot to prove to the channel now that it’s revealed it wants to buy Nortel Networks’ enterprise business. If the $475 million deal goes through, and there are no guarantees, Avaya will have to clean up the mess Nortel has left with many a reseller and other partners. Sources say Nortel’s enterprise technology and communications systems have lost their legendary quality. They say Nortel’s technical help is subpar. And they say Avaya will need to ratchet up its partner outreach and support. With all that on the line, everyone’s wondering – does Avaya realize it could be placing an albatross around its neck?

The July 20 announcement that Avaya plans to purchase Nortel’s enterprise unit wasn’t a surprise. Analysts have speculated for several months that rival Avaya was gunning for Nortel’s assets because their technologies are so similar. Plus, Avaya has been working to sell mostly through the indirect channel – picking up Nortel’s distribution base could be quite a coup.

“We expect the addition of [Nortel’s] channel partners will position us to sell 70 to 75 percent of our products and services indirectly, which is up from the current 60 percent we sell today, and provide us with a broader, more diversified channel mix,” Deborah Kline, Avaya’s senior manager of public relations, told PHONE+.

Avaya already has recruited many Nortel partners with an aggressive bonus program and streamlined ramp-up process. In late May it claimed 59 former Nortel channel partners have joined the Avaya Business Partner Program since the beginning of the year. But poaching partners and taking on the Nortel product and channel are two different things.

In addition, there’s concern that Avaya might be tackling more than it can handle – it will need to turn around Nortel products’ reputation, not to mention woo disenchanted Nortel partners.

“Not only do they have to address … reliability issues, whether perceived or real, but they’re going to have to learn the Nortel support model or come up with some kind of new model to drive efficiencies,” said Rob Arnold, senior analyst of enterprise communications for Current Analysis. In the meantime, he expects little to change for channel partners. The big shifts will come after the deal closes, if indeed it does. There’s a chance Avaya could be outbid at court-sanctioned auction.

So what can Nortel partners expect from Avaya, if all goes as planned?

“The future roadmap for the combined portfolio is unknown and will not be determined until after the transaction closes,” Kline said. However, she added, Avaya “is committed” to Avaya Aura, its “core communications architecture.”

“Traditional Nortel customers should consider Avaya Aura as a means to migrate to SIP while integrating with their existing investments,” Kline said. “Customers who have recently committed or invested in Nortel should understand that those investments can be leveraged in the future through Avaya Aura. Avaya Aura provides flexible SIP routing across Cisco, Nortel and other vendor PBXs, new and old – allowing new leading-edge capabilities to interoperate with these systems.”

Reading between the lines, one can take that to mean Nortel’s enterprise portfolio stands to go the way of the company itself. Jeff Wiener, president of reseller Digitcom Canada, holds a similar view. Digitcom was an authorized Nortel partner for about seven years, but cut most ties with the company as product and support quality dwindled. Digitcom then added Avaya and Cisco systems to its lineup. “I can’t imagine that Avaya will continue to provide support and development for Nortel’s old product line. Why would they?” he said.

Indeed, buying Nortel’s assets presents “a mixed bag” for Avaya, said Ovum analysts on July 21. Like Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO), Mitel and other equipment makers, Avaya has been poaching Nortel’s channel over the past six months as Nortel slogs its way through bankruptcy. If the buyout transpires, Avaya faces the resource-intensive process of winning over disenchanted Nortel partners.

“This will take some doing since the resellers have stocks of inventory, existing processes and lots of Nortel-specific training,” said Daniel Hong and Ian Jacobs, who track communications industry developments for Ovum’s Datamonitor group.

That’s not to say that Avaya won’t succeed in converting most of Nortel’s distributors, they noted. Certainly if Avaya does achieve that goal, it will have “bought its way into being a channel-friendly company and that will likely be worth the purchase price for Nortel.”

That’s what Avaya executives want. “This is a strategic opportunity to acquire talent and complementary assets that position the combined company for growth and success,” Kevin Kennedy, president and CEO of Avaya, said in a prepared statement.

And considering that Avaya now employs a number of former Cisco managers, Arnold at Current Analysis thinks the company is ready for the challenge. “A lot of the vice presidents over there, and the directors and marketing managers, have come from pretty large, successful organizations,” Arnold said. “And I think they’re experienced in this kind of shift internally. So I think they might be able to pull it off.”

Yet none of it will be easy for Avaya. “There’s going to be a lot of politics involved, a lot of risky or bold moves that they’ll have to take if they’re going to make this work,” Arnold said.

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Teal

Contributing Editor, Channel Futures

Kelly Teal has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist, editor and analyst, with longtime expertise in the indirect channel. She worked on the Channel Partners magazine staff for 11 years. Kelly now is principal of Kreativ Energy LLC.

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