What do you get when a leading unified communications vendor assembles a celebrity baker with a cake resembling an IP phone system, aims a half dozen cameras at them to chronicle the spectacle, throws in the CIO for the agency that manages Pink Floyd and Dolly Parton, and crams in a panel of earnest but scripted service provider executives so that the audience won't have too much fun?
You get the New York City launch event for Avaya's IP Office 7.0, an affair that was sometimes as unwieldy as unified communications can be.
Alan Baratz, president of Avaya Global Communications Solutions and the emcee for Tuesday's two-hour-plus event, held things together admirably, even if only a fraction of the time was spent on what's new with IP Office 7.0, Avaya's communications platform for businesses ranging in size from five to 1,000 employees.
The newest version completes the integration of Nortel Enterprise Solutions (which Avaya acquired for $900 million in December 2009), letting customers representing about 14 million Nortel system users upgrade to IP Office without having to get rid of their current IP and digital phones. Thanks in part to the Nortel acquisition, Avaya is now the market leader in IP telephony, UC, and contact center systems, Baratz said, as well as a "significant player" in data networking, where Cisco is still the clear No. 1.
Baratz demonstrated on stage how customers using Nortel BCM or Norstar handsets can transfer their voicemails, contacts, and other information to IP Office. The 7.0 version also features new equipment, including color touch screen desktop phones and wideband audio conference room devices.
The New York event featured new IP Office customer Howie Gold, director of IT for The Agency Group, a global, 130-employee booking agency whose clients include musical artists Nickelback, Pink Floyd, Muse, Wiz Khalifa, and Dolly Parton. Gold, the picture of show business chic in his smart brown leather jacket and designer jeans, talked about the mobile work style of the group's 70 agents, for whom IP Office's voice-mail-to-email capability is a godsend in loud clubs and arenas. Gold said agents also like being able to fire up their full-function office communications systems as soft phones on their laptops in hotel rooms. The Agency Group deployed IP Office 7.0 in the U.K. and Canada, retiring its Nortel systems in those locations but keeping the Nortel handsets in Toronto, he said.
The most convincing pitchman for IP Office 7.0 was another new customer, Buddy Valastro, the plain-talking owner of Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken, N.J., and the star of TLC's reality TV series "The Cake Boss." At the event, Valastro related his delight at being able to monitor his delivery guys via GPS on the mobile phones they carry (are they really stuck in traffic or just taking a nap on the side of the road?) and track his call center agents (who's doing the best job of upselling?) using his new Avaya tech tools. Carlo's, now a 150-employee operation, is expanding its 7,500 sq. ft. facility in Hoboken into 30,000 sq. ft. of space in nearby Jersey City.
The pace of the event got sidetracked a bit when Avaya convened a panel of six service provider execs, one of them pre-recorded from the U.K., to talk in bland generalities about the SMB business conditions they're grappling with. The crowd was already primed for the climax of the event: one of Valastro's trademark custom-crafted cakes, a half IP communications system, half fudge and frosting creation, which he wheeled out to the delight of attendees (the table it was on was made of cake too).
After technicians fumbled for 15 minutes with the cyborg confection, blinking lights and all, they finally got it to receive a phone call. (TLC, which recorded the event for a future "Cake Boss" episode, wouldn't allow photos of the cake.)
Show over. It was time to eat.
VP and Editor in Chief, InformationWeek
To find out more about Rob Preston, please visit his page.
Businesses have myriad technology options for pulling together people and ideas. But getting it right still isn't easy. Also in the new all-digital issue of InformationWeek SMB: A UC champion's survival guide. Download it now. (Free registration required.)