You wouldn't expect a company whose CEO has just rung the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange, after hosting a lavish cocktail reception on the trading floor 12 hours earlier, to be one that had only exited bankruptcy a month earlier.
Avaya's journey over the 12 months has been slightly peculiar, at least to someone who has written about the firm numerous times over that period. In a year it has gone from a vendor that was, in the opinion of many, growing stale and unimaginative - an easy target for smaller, cloud-friendly vendors to pick on - to one shouting of its future from the rooftops.
Even the most staunchly loyal Avaya partner must have been at least slightly concerned last year when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy (or Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection, as its PR team frequently reminded me over the time I covered the story). In the proceeding months it sought to restructure its debt and offloaded its networking business - a move which will have undoubtedly had some kind of impact on the partners that worked with it in this area.
In fairness to Avaya you cannot fault its communication over the Chapter 11 period - at least I can't from a journalist's perspective. Throughout that time, its PR frequently pitched interviews with senior executives who could explain where it was in the process; they didn't shy away from the press at a time when it was vulnerable to bad publicity. And judging by the partners I have spoken to, it seems the channel was given the same treatment.
There was a genuine feeling given off by the travelling Avaya party of nearly 300 people in New York that the stock exchange listing actually meant something to them, on a personal level as well as a professional one. In a short speech to Avaya staff and partners before ringing the bell, CEO Jim Chirico seemed to well up when thanking staff for their hard work after the last year, before leaving the stage rather sharpish.
When I spoke to him after the event he struck me as someone who had just had the weight of the world lifted from his shoulders. Finally he was able to look back on Avaya's recent struggles and admit some things he probably couldn't admit at the time.
"We did sort of drive the car with the handbrake on," "We played a little bit defensive," and "We will become much more aggressive in the marketplace," are all quotes that indicate things hadn't been right within Avaya for a while, and they knew it.
But some questions marks remain.
In a press roundtable, a reporter asked the Avaya exec team why it was so late to the cloud party. The answer given by new cloud boss Mercer Rowe was that it isn't. Rowe joined from IBM earlier this month to head up Avaya Cloud.
The new cloud unit shows that Avaya knows how crucial its cloud business is to its future success, but could also be proof that it knows it hasn't done enough so far - or indeed as much as its competition. Creating a separate unit and giving it a name makes it far easier for the vendor to point to something as proof when asked what it is doing in the cloud.
The appointment of Rowe from IBM, who served as the VP of partners for Big Blue's cloud business, is also a clear show of its intention moving forward. Whether anything has actually changed internally, or whether this unit is a shrewd PR stunt, remains to be seen. Rowe moved quickly to position Avaya against long-time rival Cisco and Microsoft, criticising the two for not paying enough attention and innovating enough with their voice offerings. The pair could perhaps level a similar accusation at Avaya's cloud progress.
Overall though, in particular from my chat with CEO Chirico, the event and the Avaya announcements had a very genuine feel. Sure, Chirico rattled off some of the same lines he gave me to other members of the press (which I have seen in stories published since), but the tone in which he answered my questions made him very believable. I wouldn't be surprised if we hear a lot more from the new, aggressive and attacking Avaya over the next few months.
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