Avaya Softphone/Lenovo PC Bundle Pushes VoIP Envelope

Why buy an IP softphone application and a separate PC, when you can get the two bundled together for greater ease and efficiency?

That’s the proposition put out recently by communications solutions provider Avaya and PC manufacturer Lenovo.

Beginning immediately, Lenovo customers will have the option of buying their ThinkPad notebooks and ThinkCentre desktops with Avaya software preloaded. Lenovo says the deal will help customers make the most of IP telephony. Avaya says the arrangement will help it land more customers—maybe significantly more.

In the past Avaya’s softphone client base has included mostly power users and traditional road warriors, people with a high propensity to work remotely. But those groups together represent only about 5 to 10 percent of users in a given enterprise, said Humphrey Chen, Avaya’s director of unified communications applications.

As an integrated solution, on the other hand, Avaya inside Lenovo becomes available to potentially everyone within an organization, should that enterprise undertake a full-scale replacement program.

Lenovo plans to charge $51 per user for those who opt to install the Avaya product. Chen says that is about 60 percent off the usual price.

More than just a way to expand its footprint, Avaya is looking at the Lenovo deal as a means to enrich the user experience, by attaching its technology more closely than usual to the inner workings of a PC or notebook.

“In the past when we have designed software for PCs, we pretty much had to ratchet to the lowest common denominator. We had to design it for all machines equally and so we could not take advantage of some of the unique features that were available in the different PCs,” Chen said.

Through the arrangement with Lenovo—Avaya’s first such deal—Avaya is able to more tightly integrate its product into the heart PC, thus opening up a range to functionalities that either were not available before or else could not be accessed easily.

Take for example the biometric sign-on function. Avaya could have managed fingerprint security on any number of PCs, but it might have taken the user half a dozen steps to achieve. Under the present arrangement Avaya delivers biometric verification in a single step, using fingerprint readers already in place on Lenovo ThinkPad notebooks and optional Lenovo external keyboards.

Integration also had given Avaya access to other systems whose use can improve functionality. Lenovo machines for instance include the ability to light up the keyboard in dim conditions. Avaya has plugged into that capability in order to set up a flashing-light system for voicemail notification. “[The lighting system] is not something Lenovo has published and made available to just anybody, but because we are working together we have the inside track on being able to use it,” Chen said.

The close alignment likewise makes it possible to better monitor and manage voice traffic conditions. “By having this integration, the PC knows how much bandwidth is available and we can make use of that knowledge,” Chen said.

Typically a power user would have to tweak settings in order to make best use of available bandwidth. With automatic information-sharing between Avaya and the computer’s own systems, adjustments can be made on the fly without user intervention. “By having their software inherently talk to our software, we know more than we otherwise would have known,” Chen said.

Despite all these advantages, plan has its drawbacks. In particular, it only works for existing Avaya users. Those with a Cisco back-end switch or a commitment to some other infrastructure will not be able to make use of the offering. That still leaves plenty of potential customers, though. Rated variously first or second in the enterprise mobile telephone market, Avaya commands hefty market share: 40 percent for call centers, roughly 25 percent for enterprise telephony, Chen said.

Another hurdle involves the vendors’ marketing efforts. Specifically, they still must learn how to sell the package.

“Each sales force is very well versed in its own technologies, and not that well versed in the technologies on the other side,” Chen said. “It’s a question of having [the sales force] experience the stuff first hand. That’s when the light bulb really comes on.”

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