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Sun 6 Dec 2009 04:00 AM

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Transition culture

There are some monumental changes taking place in the Avaya channel, as attendees at the vendor's recent Business Partner Conference found out.

Transition culture
Transition culture
Pradeep Angeveetil, Almasa.

There are some monumental changes taking place in the Avaya channel, as attendees at the vendor's recent Business Partner Conference found out.

Most vendors will do all they can to gloss over any faults or flaws in their operations - not Avaya. Executives at the IP telephony and unified communications specialist have gone through the firm's policies and procedures with a fine toothcomb during the past 12 months, culminating in the imminent launch of a partner programme that is set to be at the forefront of its "channel-centric" strategy.

Unveiled to more than 300 distributors and resellers at its recent EMEA Business Partner Conference, the Avaya Connect Programme replaces all outstanding partner schemes to create a single framework for processes, pricing, training and certification requirements.

Avaya hopes the programme will underpin its ambitions to be seen as a channel-driven company, having traditionally pursued a mixture of direct and indirect business that has often left partners feeling compromised.

The vendor, which is due to get its hands on Nortel's enterprise solutions business this month, intends to expand its indirect business in EMEA to 68% this year, up from 57% in 2008. That still leaves it a long way behind rivals such as Alcatel-Lucent's Genesys (70%), Cisco (86%) and Microsoft (95%), but Avaya is striving to ensure that within three years the volume of business it does through the channel is at least 85%.

Avaya's pledge to embrace a channel-focused culture has been met with scepticism by some elements of the channel. Todd Abbott, senior VP of sales and president field operations at Avaya, is understanding of that, but insists the economic downturn has actually been a good opportunity to show doubters that it means what it says.

"We entered this year with a commitment to be channel-centric and we stuck with it, making all of the investments that were necessary for us to be able to execute on that," said Abbott. "We recognise that we don't grow without a very strong channel ecosystem that brings in the application skill sets, the complex technology skill sets and the coverage of customers. When we entered this economic cycle and downward Q1, the Avaya of old would have switched back, but we did not waver from our strategy."

While Avaya is battling to redress the balance between direct and indirect sales in EMEA at large, the situation isn't quite as urgent in the Middle East, where it has always transacted an overwhelming portion of its business through partners.

In fact, more than 90% of sales are fulfilled by the channel, according to Roger El-Tawil, director of channel and marketing at Avaya's Middle East and North Africa office.

"As far as partner behaviour and indirect culture goes, we have been very much in line with how the new programme is going to come into play, so from that perspective it shouldn't be a big transition" he explained. "However, from a programme perspective, we now have an engine which is tuned for performance."

The Connect Programme will officially go live on February 1st, signalling a dramatic change in the way that Avaya engages with partners. By its own admission, Avaya's previous channel programme was overly complicated and unstructured, but it is confident that the Connect initiative will provide partners with the consistency and support they have been looking for.Jeremy Butt, VP worldwide channels at Avaya, says the aim was to create a "globally-consistent" programme.

"Every programme has to be refreshed every four or five years because it doesn't keep up with the market, the technology and the number of partners," he said. "We were very overdue a refresh because we were inconsistent around the world and the programme was very difficult to manage."

Avaya Connect will be shaped by tiered global discounts, business incentive programmes and funding to improve market coverage and closure rates. Partners will be graded into one of four separate tiers depending on competencies and revenue thresholds, taking into account the respective sizes of markets across EMEA.

Initial reaction to the programme from partners in the Middle East certainly appears to be positive. Pradeep Angeveetil, general manager for the networking business unit at Dubai-based distributor Almasa, says the overhaul was much-needed.

 "They are making the processes simpler and new partners who come on board will find it a lot easier to do business with them," he said. "A lot of the processes that were there in the past were time-consuming, so rather than going out and spending more time in the market, people were getting stuck with processes."

As well as tweaking partner certifications and specialisations, Avaya has slashed the number of training tracks it offers from 100 down to 13, stripping out a whole load of duplication in the process and shifting the emphasis to solution-sales around unified communications, contact centres and SMB technologies.

Jamal Ali, general manager at UAE-based Avaya reseller Olive, believes Avaya still has to iron out glitches in its logistics and services procedures, but overall he is encouraged by what he heard at the Business Partner Conference.

"The most important thing for me is that the programme gives equal opportunities to partners and takes different criteria into consideration, not just revenue," he said. "They are now talking about rewarding competencies, which is very important because my company is very competent, but [is worth] less revenue to Avaya because we are still new," added Ali.

Partners have also given the thumbs up to news that Avaya will overhaul its pricing strategy. From February it will adopt a global pricing policy and reduce the 450 material price lists it has today to just three: products, services, and service. This standardisation is designed to simplify matters for resellers involved in multi-country deployments and speed up quotation procedures. Avaya also hopes it will reduce the current unhealthy dependence on special bid pricing.

"We should be doing 20% to 25% of our business on special bid, not the 80%-plus that we do today," Avaya's Todd Abbott told resellers. "80% special bid is a lot of wasted time on your side and a lot of wasted time on my side. You have people wired to the process and that is a waste of OPEX. We need to get that money freed up so it is focused on value added activities."

Avaya has made the sort of changes that demonstrate its channel-centric rhetoric is more than just a temporary marketing message. All that remains now is for the company to ensure that the execution of its programme and pricing strategies happens as smoothly as possible, particularly with a whole host of Nortel resellers poised to join its ranks in the coming weeks.

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