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Since completing its acquisition of Nortel Enterprise Solutions in December, Avaya has been busy migrating both its own and Nortel’s channel partners to the new Avaya Connect partner program. According to Avaya’s channel lead, the company has already surpassed its goal of signing up Nortel partners for the program.

When the acquisition was finished, Avaya’s goal was to focus on bringing 181 key U.S. Nortel partners on board by the end of March, and the company has already signed 264 partners (accounting for 62 percent of the total Nortel Enterprise Solutions partner base), said Carol Neslund, vice president of North American channels at Avaya. Those key partners represent 90 percent of the revenue coming from the Nortel business unit.

“We had a couple of key milestones that we were looking to make sure we achieved. One was bringing the two partner communities together as quickly as possible, and Avaya Connect provided a good framework for doing that. We quickly created a solution track for the Nortel authorized partners to come into the program and then we levelled them in the new program based on whether they’re certified, at what level they’re certified and their revenue level,” Neslund said.

In fact, it’s been quite a busy six months for Avaya. The company announced its acquisition of the Nortel Enterprise Solutions group in September 2009 and then launched the Avaya Connect partner program in October. It completed the acquisition of the Nortel business in December, but then it had to work towards a March 31 deadline (when Nortel “sunsetted,” Neslund said) to get Nortel partners signed up for Avaya Connect.

The merging of two partner ecosystems is never easy, but Neslund said the integration of the Nortel partner community into Avaya hasn’t been too challenging because of a couple of factors. First, the two partner communities share very little overlap, so channel conflicts over shared customers have been minimal.

Second, Nortel and Avaya both went through channel program streamlining initiatives about 18 months ago, so the most difficult parts of making the programs easier on both sides had already been done. The Avaya Connect program has been very good for bringing together the two partner communities, Neslund said.

Additionally, the acquisition of Nortel Enterprise Solutions hasn’t created any significant shifts in how Avaya views its channel. One of Nortel’s strengths that will have some effect on Avaya is channel marketing, Neslund said. Nortel excelled in channel marketing efforts, both in selling to and selling with the channel, she added. To complement that, Avaya has expanded its channel marketing team, which she said will be of tremendous benefit to the overall partner ecosystem.

“We found that from a programmatic perspective, Avaya Connect provided a good framework to bring the two programs together,” she said.

Another important piece to the merging of the two companies is the formation of an integrated product roadmap for partners and customers so they can make decisions on where they want to invest their time and money. Neslund said the roadmap creation has been a success.

The last piece is engaging partners in the field. Avaya has brought over several Nortel channel specialists to work on joint planning and accounts. Even with very few conflicts between partners on either side of the fence, Avaya still has to be cautious in how decisions and changes affect partners.

“We’re doing everything that we can to limit the amount of channel conflict that there is between the different channel partners and to work with customers on technology decisions. It’s been very good,” Neslund said.

Overall, Avaya is well ahead of where it expected to be three months after the completion of the acquisition, she said.

“The key milestones for us are getting everybody from a partner perspective into a partner ecosystem (and we’re well on the way to that with Avaya Connect), making sure the product roadmap is out there – and I expect it will take six to 12 months for customers to make the decision as to how they’re going to progress,” Neslund said.

Avaya also plans to make announcements regarding certification and the product roadmap in the next month. According to Neslund, the company is getting ready to launch a new approach to how it certifies partners and how it charges partners for certification. She promises it will be a very positive announcement for the channel.

“We’re very cognizant that it costs considerable resources – time and money – to bring on a new product line, which for a Nortel partner bringing on Avaya products is that kind of investment,” she said.