Nortel user group execs speak out

The International Nortel Networks Users Association, based in Chicago, is a nonprofit organization with more than 5,500 members. We interviewed three of INNUA's top executives: Steve Ford, president; Victor Bohnert, executive director; and Amanda McLafferty, marketing manager.

What kind of a job is CEO Bill Owens doing?

Ford: I'm very pleased with Bill Owens' management of the company. He's taken them through the financial restatement process, and formed a lot of key alliances, which creates opportunities in other markets. Also, under Owens the company has been a big mover in the Asia-Pacific region.

Bohnert: Owens had two distinct objectives when he came on board: to straighten out the company's finances and to take the company forward from there, and he's done both of those things very well.

What would you most like to see Nortel focus on over the next 12 months?

Ford: One thing that continues to be important for Nortel is getting more end users, more customers. Our members are primarily voice managers, and they need education on the data side.

McLafferty: Although a lot of our membership is focused on voice, about a quarter of them are data managers, as well. As voice and data networks are merging, they need education, and we'd like to get Nortel to do more of that.

Are there other areas where the company can improve?

Ford: They need to re-engage the distribution channel. They're the face of Nortel. Distributors are their front door.

Bohnert: When we're sitting down with Nortel, we say it's a myth that you cannot have your distribution channel engaged. Only 3% of our members buy direct from Nortel. We want to make sure the distributor is engaged both with us and with Nortel.

Is the user group concerned about Nortel's recent financial scandals?

Bohnert: If we were having this conversation months ago, we probably would have said more about the financials.

[After the financial scandal became public,] Nortel sat down with us immediately, and they took the steps to explain the issues. Bill Owens took questions from the audience, without any restrictions. They also sent an open letter to us. They're regaining their credibility. It's refreshing to see Nortel regaining confidence as a major player and a leader.

What are some of the positive steps the company has taken since the financial scandal?

Ford: They've really ramped up their advertising. Before, they relied on just their presence, but now they're actively marketing themselves. Cisco has the name recognition, and that's one reason Nortel's contract with the city of San Jose [in June for deployment of a converged network], in Cisco's backyard, was a big victory for them.

They're also putting emphasis on security, as evidenced in their partnership with Symantec. From a mobility standpoint, the Trapeze acquisition was right on track. We're looking at it as a solution here. Cisco's products don't do what they can do with that acquisition.

Bohnert: Marketing is going to be key for them. After landing the San Jose contract, they put up signs all over the expressways in the area, which is as aggressive as I've seen them.

Is the company on the right track in terms of technology?

Bohnert: Nortel is definitely doing things the right way, and they're concerned about doing things the right way. Their strategic goals are in line with what we're looking for. We walk in step with them strategically.

Back to feature: Nortel's uphill battle

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