Avaya’s CTO offers a revealing look at IT priorities

Brett Shockley didn’t need a unicycle to show a Canadian tech audience how difficult it is for CIOs to balance competing pressures. Look at the latest survey stats


Steve Jobs had the black turtleneck. Bill Gates has those glasses. And Brett Shockley has the unicycle.

Shockley, Avaya’s senior VP and CTO, has been known to roll on stage for keynotes and other events while perched on a unicycle. It’s not just a gimmick. Unicycles have been part of Shockley’s life since his junior high days in Minnesota. As a teenager he built what was then the world’s tallest unicycle, a 50-footer. When he started building and selling customized unicycles, an entrepreneur was born.

At 28, Shockley co-founded call centre technology firm Spanlink Communications with just $3,000 in outside financing. Just over a decade later, Spanlink was worth more than $80 million.

So I was secretly disappointed when Shockley strode on stage, sans unicycle, at the recent Avaya Evolutions Toronto conference. The rest of his presentation did not disappoint, though, as Shockley unfurled the results of Avaya’s latest customer survey. He painted a revealing picture of how the enterprise is approaching IT today:

mobile workers: 77 per cent of Avaya’s enterprise clients allow BYOD among employees; 40 per cent of mobile workers spend more than 20 per cent of their time away from their desks – a situation that will drive demand for video collaboration tools, Shockley said.

mobile risks: company insiders are responsible for 67 per cent of security breaches.

RELATED VIDEO: Avaya Evolutions brings Toronto together.

– multi-channel: 78 per cent of Avaya customers want a multi-channel customer experience; 50 per cent use multi-channel regularly; only 17 per cent say companies provide this well.

– big data: 30 per cent of Avaya’s enterprise customers see big data as “a problem”; 70 per cent see it as an opportunity.

– cloud: 70 per cent plan to move new apps to cloud computing.

Shockley listed Avaya’s top priorities for the coming year: apps, cloud, networking and video. The lynchpin? The customer. Avaya’s goal is “helping our customers help their customers,” Shockley said, “(by) putting a wow factor back in customer service and ensuring consistency in customer service.”

Today’s customers are mobile; they want to be productive in their own individual way. They also want personalized, customized experiences. As Shockley put it: “Now, technological innovation is back to empowering individuals.”

But he also added that, “commercial innovation can no longer rely on individuals alone … the future capacity for change will come through a larger, collective intelligence.” Sounds like a rallying cry for collaboration. Avaya’s vision, Shockley said, is to be the preferred provider of open mobile enterprise collaboration platforms.

Shockley touched on a lot of competing interests that need to be balanced: the push for personalization alongside demand for group-friendly collaboration; the benefits of BYOD vs. the security risks it brings; the drive to build solutions that are customized for each client but open enough for easy integration. A delicate balancing act, for sure.

Good thing Shockley knows how to ride a unicycle.

Beside a 1977 newspaper photo of Shockley on his 50-foot unicycle, the caption partly reads: ‘The trick is to lean forward, but to get into that position requires a fall forward position of almost five seconds.’

If you don’t lean forward, you might fall down completely. Sounds like a balancing act many CIOs can relate to.

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1 Comment

  1. Selling to the CMO…..

    Agree with Mr Shockley, if your positioning your value add in terms of clear improvements to the clients “clients” -upstream ecosystem collaboration synergy +new insights that can scale and get CEO attention AND demonstrate “predictable” COSTs and minimal operational disruption for the buyer who’s time pressed and risk averse ie. “what’s in it for me”, then you’ll get short listed. (show them how NPS scores will go up!)

    If your thinking about helping “the clients clients” as Mr. Shockley states then your dealing with the CMO, CSO and most likely the CEO.

    As per Gartner, IT/telecom Sales reps need to “redine their value to their client’s or be left out of the buy cycle completely”
    http://blogs.gartner.com/tiffani-bova/2013/09/09/breaking-news-the-technology-sales-rep-has-lost-their-mojo/

    GARTNER CMO’s will drive IT “tech spend” and “value definition” by 2017…
    http://my.gartner.com/portal/server.pt%3Fopen%3D512%26objID%3D202%26mode%3D2%26PageID%3D5553%26ref%3Dwebinar-rss%26resId%3D1871515

    regards and thanks,

    Stuart Armstrong
    (ex Avaya, Digital)

    Stuart Armstrong / 5 years ago