Avaya developing "chameleon" units for business communications

Avaya is coming out next spring with chameleon-like appliances that will take on the characteristics of phones, desktop video systems, locked-down contact-center terminals – a whole range of dedicated communications gear.

These units will likely be dominated by a video screen equipped with soft buttons that users can configure for a variety of functions, says Alan Baratz, senior vice president and president for Global Communication Solutions at Avaya, in his VoiceCon keynote address scheduled for Nov. 3.

"It's hardware without personality purely under software control," Baratz says. "You can turn it into a variety of endpoint devices."

He describes this new equipment as a compute engine designed specifically to support real-time broadband audio and low-bandwidth video traffic. Initially the devices will be wired, but wireless versions could follow, he says. He recognizes that businesses have requirements for desktops, laptops and other portable wireless devices, and Avaya would try to fulfill these needs.

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Avaya would try to fully integrate software for this chameleon capability into a variety of devices but retain a common feel to the client.

Baratz says Avaya will forge alliances with consumer application providers such as Google, Yahoo or Skype to integrate enterprise-hardened versions of their instant messaging into the Avaya platforms. This would help in contact centers, for instance, where online customers might want to message call agents, he says.

Avaya's goal is to give workers a wide range of communication options so they can use the one best suited to the task at hand. The customizable hardware is just one element of that architecture that will be driven by software, Baratz says.

He splits communications options into two groups: realtime voice and video for immediately connecting with others and communications such as texting, instant messaging and the like that leave a written trail and can be used for more thoughtful decision making. He says he regards e-mail as managing connections between people rather than being a primary communications channel. "It's an envelope to share documents and it's good if you want to repurpose content," he says.

The way Avaya looks at it, communications infrastructure can supply the control mechanisms found in e-mail – delivering content reliably within a common envelope – and apply it to real-time communication. "Presence is an important component to tell you who's available and how you can reach them, and then you use it in interesting new ways," he says.

So, for instance, a person might leave a voicemail that a network-based application automatically turns into an SMS text message to the same person, Baratz says. The recipient can pick up the message using the method most convenient to them at that time, he says.

"It uses presence as a vehicle to understand who's available when and how, but not burden the user to think how to engage the person," he says.

Avaya is working on accomplishing this and one component will be end-user control sequencing of applications available in the network. So a person might engage the application to translate a voicemail into an SMS message or record a conference call that has been set up via other applications, he says.

The infrastructure, which will roll out over the next six to nine months, will enable users to choose applications from the network that they need to create these types of custom communications channels.

A new release of Avaya's Aura communications server will support auto registration of endpoints and applications to the network so they can be more easily accessible to each other he says.

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