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Business in Vancouver

Canadian Freelance Union- CEP

Nortel legacy lives on in other tech incarnations

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2011 First published in Business in Vancouver August 2-8, 2011 issue #1136 High Tech Office column

What happens to superstars after they fall from fame?

For rock stars, there’s always the Oldies circuit. Nortel Networks is perhaps Canada’s most famous tech burnout. But like aging rock musicians, a faded tech superstar never quite disappears.

While Nortel ceased operations in June 2009, it was back in the news recently, selling some 6,000 patents to a consortium that included sometime rivals Apple, Microsoft and RIM – but not Google.

At its peak, though, Nortel was more than an intellectual property portfolio. The company had actual products, both hardware and software. In November 2009, U.S.-based Avaya bought Nortel’s Enterprise Solutions business.

(Avaya? It’s a privately held, New Jersey-based company that, until November 2000, was the business communications unit of Lucent Technologies, itself one of the companies created by the breakup of AT&T.)

In May, I spoke with Avaya Canada president Ross Pellizzari, who was in town to roll out the company’s new generation unified communications software that merged Nortel and Avaya product lines. Later I visited two local companies that were using Avaya products.

Burnaby-based Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers has grown from a one-time Kelowna storefront furniture dealer to the world’s largest industrial auctioneer. The company has a long history of using technology to maintain an edge on its competitors. For example, it pioneered remote video bidding on auctions in 1989 and expanded to the Internet in 2002.

With staff and auctions in Canada, the US, Europe and Asia, and bidders worldwide, seamless communications for the company is vital.
According to Ritchie Bros.’ telecommunications manager Chris Farrer, beginning four years ago, the company consolidated multiple stand-alone phone systems, connecting employees in the local headquarters with colleagues in the U.S., the Netherlands and other locations. Avaya’s one-X Communicator gives employees worldwide access to telephone, fax and messaging services on PC and notebook-based softphones, smartphones and more. The system allows Richie Bros. to contact employees via a seven-digit extension regardless of location, in the office or in the field.

Features like least-cost routing and network redundancy save the company money while providing inter
national backup and disaster recovery. Farrer uses other Avaya software such as Witness, which allows him to record and monitor the company’s call centre network, a key component in its international auctions.

Inventure Solutions is Vancity credit union’s information technology subsidiary; like Ritchie Bros. it prides itself on having a history of “being innovative in the delivery of technology to the advantage of our customers and creating new business opportunities,” including innovations in mobile banking and foreign remittance.

I spoke with Jason Peckham, Inventure’s contact centre technologies manager. The contact centre had been using Nortel technologies extensively, which Peckham estimated saved the company $1 million a year over earlier product implementations. When time came to upgrade, Nortel was no longer an option; Inventure looked at options, including Cisco and Avaya.

According to Peckham, Avaya’s proposal offered Inventure a combination of stability and low risk. The replacement contact centre hardware and software was built around a series of pre-made components that could be configured by Peckham and his team, allowing the project to come in on time and on budget. The new system lets him “set it and forget it,” which allows the company to advance its business without having to focus on the technology.

Phase two added work force management and optimization software. That made it possible to rate call centre employee performance, highlight areas needing improvement and link to appropriate e-learning tools.

Peckham said Avaya has seamlessly integrated Nortel’s product line into its own. The result: Inventure was able to protect its investment in hardware and software and, more importantly, in IT staff skills.

Avaya recognized Inventure Solutions with its 2011 award for enterprise transformation for demonstrating “the most visionary view of business value created by Avaya’s technology solutions.”

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