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Avaya solves fragmented presence problem with federated presence server

Shamus McGillicuddy

Avaya claims to have solved the problem of fragmented presence in unified communications (UC) with its new Intelligent Presence Server.

The communications vendor announced its presence server at VoiceCon on Monday, along with several other new UC offerings.

Intelligent Presence aggregates telephony, desktop and application presence information from Avaya and third-party sources to give a federated view of the availability of users in an enterprise.

The server is designed to find the availability of people, not endpoint devices or clients, said Diane Shariff, director of UC product marketing at Avaya. It brings together different instances of presence, bridging different standards to give a universal view.

"Many of us have multiple clients. What happens within the enterprise is you won't be able to see all the different instances of presence," she said. "In some cases, to see my presence, I've got to be logged in [at my desktop]. So I log in. Then I leave with my mobile phone, and all of a sudden you can't see my presence anymore. What we're announcing is intelligent presence that brings all that together and tries to solve those problems of tying all those different devices together."

Nick Lippis, analyst with the Lippis Report, said Intelligent Presence solves a major problem in UC: the fragmentation of presence.

"What this would do is offer a way to federate presence so that even though you're on [AOL Instant Messenger] and

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I'm not, I'd still be able to see your presence," Lippis said.

This fragmentation of presence gets worse in the enterprise, he said, pointing to Microsoft's Open Communications Server and Exchange products, which have different presence schemes that don't talk to each other.

"They have some bolt-ons that make them talk to each other, but they're kind of brittle," he said. "The same thing with IBM Lotus's Domino and SameTime. They have presence, but they were developed by different teams, and the interfaces between them [are] brittle and ... don't scale very well. As we get into SIP-based endpoints that also offer a presence capability and unified communications products that offer presence with videoconferencing, what happens is you have all these different islands of presence that exist out in an organisation."

Avaya's Intelligent Presence ties those fragments of presences together, Lippis said. There are several startups in the market that have been working on this fragmentation problem, but Avaya appears to be the first to "crack that code," he said. Startups face a challenge because they're dealing with the architecture of major IT vendors, and it's difficult to develop a technology that can bridge so many different standards.

"If I'm an enterprise and I have Microsoft Office Communicator, and we acquire a company [that is] using IBM Lotus SameTime, in most cases those organisations couldn't talk together," Shariff said. "That isn't what UC should be. IT should be about bridging communications regardless of application or device."

Lippis said Avaya is the first to market with a unified presence product, but he said other major vendors such as Cisco, Nortel, Siemens and Microsoft won't be far behind.

"It should be a productivity enhancement," he said. "This is also the foundation or one of the foundations of communications-enabled business processes."

Communications-enabled business processes use enterprise applications that are integrated with UC technology to make businesses run more efficiently. Lippis pointed to an example in a customer service call centre.

"In contact centres and agent pools, there are a lot of issues that rise above the skill level of a particular agent," he said. "Many agents have gone and developed their own contact list. They'll say, 'Well, I got this question and I don't know the answer, but Sally knows this really well. I'll put this call on hold and see if I can get Sally on the phone.' That's how a lot of agents have been able to scale up their skill access. What you can do [with federated presence] is institutionalise that. I have a question about something and here are the experts in the organisation who can help me with this. And [presence] shows if they are available."

Shariff said Avaya's Intelligent Presence actually takes things a bit further than that. The server has a series of information collectors and publishers that it combines with rules that help users control how and when they should be contacted and also allows the system to predict who is the best person to solve a specific business problem.

"I might choose not be contacted or to have certain rules around who can contact me," she said. "We would also be able to tap into anyone in an enterprise based on their presence and information based on their skills, location, availability and calendar information. So someone would be able to find that Diane Shariff is available on her mobile phone for this type of client and make that connection more intelligently."

In addition to Intelligent Presence, Avaya announced a new UC client, Avaya one-X Communicator. The product integrates telephony, desktop video, visual voicemail, presence, email, instant messaging, conference bridge integration, directories, and contact history into one desktop client. It supports both H.323 and SIP communications protocols.

Avaya also announced a suite of new role-based and branch-based UC client packages aimed at simplifying deployment of UC. The suite includes UC packages designed specifically for teleworkers, mobile workers and home-based call centre agents. Other packages include "Intelligent Branch" solutions, aimed at adding UC capabilities tailored specifically for branch locations. These Intelligent Branch solutions include packages for retail stores and banks.

Avaya also announced an expanded line of professional services aimed at helping to customise and deliver those role-based and branch-based packages.