July 2010

Avaya Partner Equipment

The End of an Era

By: Julie Schenk, Viper Communications

Mostly when articles are published in technology magazines, we discuss the latest advances in the telecom world. Today I am going to take a moment to say good bye to some older technology, the traditional key telephone system in general, but most notably, my “partner” in crime. In the last month, Avaya (who is now the “owner” of the Norstar brand) announced the End of Sale of the Partner and ICS telephone systems. These telephone systems were tailored to small-medium users and they could work as a key or hybrid system. When Avaya bought out Norstar, the writing was on the wall for the ICS telephone system to be discontinued. Why would you keep your biggest competition around? But I must say I’m a little taken back by the announcement of the End of the Partner Advanced Communication System so soon afterwards.

Don’t get me wrong, Avaya definitely eluded that the end was near. They marketed strongly to their dealers how the IP Office will meet all the same needs as the ACS did. They had webinars and focus groups, and put a lot of material out there as to why the IP Office is all the ACS is and more. They even made a version of the IP Office to act just like an ACS (but in the “partner” version, it’s no longer has any IP capabilities. So what’s the point? But I digress) and technically, the IP Office it is a superior product. And maybe I’m just adverse to change, but I’m with the old timers when I say it’s just not necessary for every solution. Most small offices do not need the capability to have IP phones for remote workers, or to have the ability to network multiple telephone system together. The main reason I don’t feel this is going to catch on is simple. Many smaller phone installers (who are the target market for the ACS) are independent phone guys that at one point worked for the Telco. They do not want to program with a laptop computer. Period. They will retire before doing something they are not comfortable with. So if you are new in the PBX business, good news, your competition is definitely going to be left behind on this one.

Then there is another category of integrators who rely on the Partner telephone system’s simplicity. They like being able to tell their customer over the phone: “Go to ext. 10, hit Feature 00, # whatever” and ta-da! Problem solved. They loved the modular connection to the telephone system. Problem with line 2? Let me move it to Line 3, problem solved! You want to hook up a Fax machine? Plug it right in! It all makes sense, just by looking at it. Enhanced Tip/Ring connectivity is very useful; I’m surprised more manufacturers have not adopted the concept. The fact that you can plug any analog device into the back of a Partner telephone and now have a connection for that device is genius. So easy to use, and rather under- utilized actually. Not only is the product easy to understand, but so is the manual. The flow chart in the back of the book that quickly outlines every feature the telephone system is capable of is far and away the easiest to understand in the industry. The rest of the manual is just a larger explanation of these few pages. Now I understand that many manufacturers like to protect their dealers and only want trained certified technicians installing their product. I suppose that’s one business model, but I would think what is more important to a large manufacturer would be market share and brand presence. Small telephone system in general are not “big ticket” items. Each customer can only generate so much profit. The way to be profitable is to sell them in volume.

This is not to say the Partner telephone system will be gone tomorrow. In the secondary market, products get to live well into their “retirement” years. I commonly sell telephone system and components that have been discontinued for 10+ years. As I mentioned, people are adverse to change. The Partner product enjoyed a very long life cycle with unprecedented market share, so I’m confident the hardware will be available for years to come.

I know it’s time to move on. The advances in technology make it necessary to move past an analog hybrid telephone system, logic tells me. But I’ll never forget taking my first little baby Partner home to play and learn with. It made grasping basic telephony concepts easy. But I guess my baby’s all grown up now. Time to go, I think I hear my IP phone crying……