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Avaya’s web.alive - Another Approach for Unified Communications?

Earlier this month, Avaya held a new type of customer event in Toronto, called Evolutions. They have been looking for better ways to bring customers together, so aside from their global event, they’ve put together Evolutions, which has a regional focus. The first one was recently held in Mexico to great success, and my understanding is that Canada was the next trial event, and that’s what I attended in downtown Toronto.

They drew customers (and prospects of course) from all over Canada, and had a full day of customer success stories and sessions about Avaya’s roadmap, as well as their various technology and channel partners. I’m almost certain I was the only Canadian analyst invited, so this may well be the only place you’ll hear about Evolutions.

The reason I’m writing about it here is web.alive, which some of you will know about, but most of you won’t. My connection to web.alive goes back further than any other analyst, so this was a bit like seeing an old friend.

So, let me back up and first tell you what it is, and this will make more sense. Web.alive is like Second Life—remember that?—but for business users. In short, it’s virtual collaboration environment, with HD audio, guided by avatars that interact in real time. This is one of those things you simply have to see to understand, but once you do, you get it right away. In fact, looking at Avaya’s web.alive website, they actually don’t describe with words very well at all. It’s very much a visual experience, and is the next best thing to telepresence for immersive communication.

Without dwelling on the past, I just need to connect some dots for the back story. This technology was developed by an Arizona-based company called DiamondWare (that’s a whole story in itself), and they were acquired by Nortel in 2008. Nortel brought it into their incubator program, Project Chainsaw, and I got to see it first hand before commercialization. At the time Nortel had a very bold vision for web.alive, whereby this interface would eventually become the locus of all enterprise communication, and there would simply be no need for a desk phone. Hardly anybody was talking about UC then, and this really was an early form solution.

When Nortel was disintegrating, web.alive was just coming to market, with Lenovo being their first announced customer. At the time, I felt it was probably Nortel’s best asset outside of their patents and installed base, but web.alive was still a pretty stealthy concept. Fast forward a bit, and when Avaya picked up the pieces it wanted from Nortel, web.alive was in that mix. I had since been wondering what happened to it, and was pleasantly surprised to see Avaya giving it so much attention at Evolutions.
UC has come a long way, and it’s pretty central to Avaya’s value proposition now, and I see no reason why that can’t include web.alive. Once you see examples of how it can be deployed, web.alive can add value in many ways for a business. The Lenovo example earlier shows how web.alive creates a virtual storefront environment that runs 24/7, making it a new sales channel for their products. Applications for UC are almost endless, where web.alive could simply be an adjunct to other communications modes, or it could be the entire solution itself.

Of course, virtual environments and avatars aren’t for everyone. On the other hand, for geeky gamers (many of whom are not Millennials!), this is most intuitive interface ever. When you experience how life-like spatial audio is in HD (which is exactly what gamers understand), you’ll get past the quirkiness of avatars, and will see the possibilities right away. While nothing beats the efficiency of a simple phone call to exchange information, the interactive, real-time nature of web.alive makes collaboration incredibly interesting. All of a sudden, time and space disappear as constraints, and what you give up with video images, you gain with hands-on interaction.

I know this is not for everybody, and it is a different way of doing things. That’s why I think web.alive can be a great adjunct for Avaya’s UC offerings. For some it will have limited applications, but others will thrive with it. The key for me is that creating a real-time environment with avatars is much cheaper and less bandwidth-intensive than telepresence. Again, if you can get beyond the avatar thing, the economics are very attractive, especially if you have to collaborate a lot between disparate office locations. Enterprises that are very voice-centric will see limited utility here, but for those who place more value on having a multimode communication/collaboration interface, web.alive is a great solution.

I’m not so sure how far Avaya will follow this path with web.alive, and ultimately their customers—and channels—will determine that. However, it certainly fits my world view of UC, and most importantly, this is technology that their competitors don’t have. As this market matures, my concern is that all UC offerings will basically be the same, mainly because they’re all built around the same technologies. Web.alive is completely different, and I think Avaya has a great opportunity to here expand the UC palette and give them a competitive edge.

This article of mine originally ran today on the UCStrategies portal.

By Jon Arnold, Principal, J Arnold & Associates

Jon is also co-founder of Intelligent Communications Partners that focuses on the smart grid space.

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