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Interview: Avaya CEO Kevin Kennedy on business in the Middle East

Tom Paye | Oct. 30, 2013
As part of a round-the-world trip to various markets, Kevin Kennedy, president and CEO, Avaya, visited Dubai to see how the company can help the Middle East ride the next big waves of innovation. The CEO also talked about how he found meeting some of Avaya's biggest regional customers.

In your short time here, what kind of appetite have you seen for cloud in the Middle East?
Almost every conversation we had here started with innovation and new outcomes that leaders wanted to create. In the rest of the world, people often lead with cloud because they're trying to solve their financial mechanisms first. In the industrialised world, you don't want to spend this money, so you'll amortise it over the next five or seven years. Here, it will be about innovation first, or new outcomes, and then decisions on how human resources are best used. In other parts of the world, it's an economic alternative that you start with and then the outcomes are sometimes secondary.

You have big customers like the RTA, Emirates NBD and Etisalat in this region, and presumably you met with all of them. So what are they looking for?
There's a reality that most of our discussions here were about driving change. In other regions, sometimes it's people reacting to change.

Avaya says there's a large appetite for video-conferencing and video-calling in this region. Who are you targeting with such offerings?
It's ready for anyone. Let me remind you, in our parlance, we're talking about SMBs anywhere from, say, 25 or 50 users all the way up to 5,000 users. Those are pretty big companies, and it's a pretty big range. The big thing about the SMBs is that they don't have a lot of time to hire out IT resources. They don't have big staffs, and they want things when they want them. For this technology, we bought a company called Radvision, which is really a mobile video solution. It rolls out in less than a day, everybody's using their mobile devices, it's very high-definition, but it works over a 128 kb/s or 256 kb/s line.

Aside from being the CEO of Avaya, you also serve on the United States National Security Telecoms Advisory Committee. Has the controversy surrounding Edward Snowden and the PRISM programme affected either role, or has it created a conflict of interests?
Neither. This committee is a collection of CEOs, and the Department of Homeland Security will come in, too. There may be questions such as should there be a separate network built in the country for emergency capabilities — in the event of a hurricane or a big fire — or how can we encourage businesses to protect themselves more against cyber-criminals? These are very big topics, so Homeland Security and this group of CEOs will work to try to build a consensus on prudent directions, and give a recommendation to the President. It's very focused, it's very specific, and it's really not very political. It's really about the directional investments of how to approach big problems.


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