Eighteen months after taking the helm of Lucent Technologies Inc. spinoff Avaya Inc., CEO Donald Peterson is struggling with the same revenue problems that are plaguing most telecommunications vendors.
But rather than pulling back on the original vision for the enterprise networking company, Peterson is broadening the scope of product lines to cover a wider market, hoping to spark greater interest in IP networking. While in Washington late last month to host the U.S. Soccer Federations benefit dinner, Peterson spoke with eWeek Senior Editor Caron Carlson about the companys direction.
eWeek: What product innovations can we expect to see from Avaya over the coming year?
Peterson: There is a lot of change going on in all areas of our business. Voice over IP is kind of the watchword today, but everything thats out on the marketplace is Windows-based. It doesnt always meet everybodys own design criteria, so there are new platforms that need to be added to that menu mix. Linux is one that a lot of people are asking about and were working on.
eWeek: Will we see any innovations in messaging?
Peterson: In our messaging business, well be able to tie in voice mail systems from ourselves and e-mail systems from both Microsoft [Corp.] and IBM[s] Lotus [Software division]. Well be the only ones that can do it. The next stage is to extend that into something that would manage the access to different message stores, whether theyre voice mail or e-mail. I think youll see some important product announcements about that from us in the next couple months.
We can connect any kind of cellular device, including a PDA [personal digital assistant], into the PBX and have it operate effectively as an extension line on the PBX and provide signaling back in for call control. Its a bit of a gee-whiz thing, but Im not sure people want to use their PDA as a telephone set. The EC500, which enables that, also enables any cell phone to be an extension of your PBX, and that is something that people find quite useful. People are getting a little overwhelmed with the number of mailboxes and number of devices and so forth, and this is a simplification around your business life. Weve got to go after the PDAs and the pagers and see if there is further simplification possible.
eWeek: What are you planning in your call center business, and how does the Quintus Corp. acquisition from last spring change the offerings?
Peterson: Quintus has a product thats particularly well-suited at the high end. It supports multiple underlying switch technologies and multiple languages. Our products were only [Windows] NT-based and were particularly focused on call control. Weve been working to put those products together, and later on this spring, we will have that combined product in the marketplace.
eWeek: In addition to efforts to divest Connectivity Solutions, what is your strategy for restructuring?
Peterson: We are going through a serious transition, one facet of which is a rippling through of new technologies in each of the spaces we think are important to us. We think theres an opportunity to broaden the service offerings, and—if we can get the support from other manufacturers—offer services on other peoples products. Buying [another manufacturers] distributor would obviously help that, hypothetically.
eWeek: Things are tough all over, but putting aside the general economic downturn, has Avaya evolved as you envisioned at the outset?
Peterson: There are three components to the revenue issue weve had. One is the economy. The second is that there was a buy-up in technology around the Year 2K that caused 2000 itself and 2001 to fall off. Thirdly, theres been a [fear, uncertainty and doubt] factor around voice over IP thats driven a hesitance on the part of people to invest.