The future of Avaya's and Nortel's respective VoIP businesses is in software and partnerships with enterprise application vendors, the CEOs for both companies said this week.

In separate keynote sessions at the VoiceCon show, Avaya CEO Louis D'Ambrosio and Nortel CEO Mike Zafirovski both said the majority of their respective companies' R&D efforts are focused on software - with 75 percent to 80 percent of their development dollars going to writing code, rather than circuit boards, line cards and handsets. Both CEOs also emphasised partnerships with application vendors such as IBM, Microsoft and SAP.

D'Ambrosio described "a major disaggregating of hardware and software" going with Avaya's VOIP and communications products. To this end, 70 percent of Avaya's R&D resources are now devoted to software development. Avaya is working to make voice and messaging applications into distributed services, applets and software objects which can be woven into other enterprise applications, such as ERP or CRM.

"Injecting communications into the core of business processes" will be important for enterprises to respond more quickly to events that affect a broad range of IT systems, D'Ambrosio said. As an example, he cited Avaya's Communications Enabled Business Processes technology, announced this week at VoiceCon, which ties together Avaya audio conferencing and messaging applications to service-oriented architecture-based platforms such as SAP NetWeaver or IBM WebSphere.

Avaya also announced a deal with ThinkPad laptop maker Lenovo, to integrate a message waiting light - similar to a desktop phone - which blinks when an Avaya softphone client on the laptop has a new voice mail.

D'Ambrosio also cited Avaya's recent plan to acquire Ubiqity, a maker of Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)-based application servers for carriers, as another move in its software-centric approach.

"We'll be bringing that carrier-grade SIP technology to the enterprise," D'Ambrosio said.

Not to be outdone, Nortel's Zafirovski said his company is also pushing carrier-grade SIP into the enterprise, while the vendor is transforming its enterprise business to software and applications.

"Though the image of Nortel may be as a hardware company," he said, "we're making software solutions to drive [business innovation]."

Of the 12,000 engineers and researchers at Nortel, around 80 percent are software programmers, Zafirovski said. He also touted integration efforts with IBM and Microsoft, with which Nortel has an extensive R&D, sales and services partnership, known as the Innovative Communications Alliance. Nortel this week announced integration of its SIP-based Multimedia Communication Server 5100, with IBM's Lotus Sametime and Notes applications.

"We're making carrier-grade SIP technology available to the enterprise," he said. "Not a company in the world can make that claim."

But Zafirovski emphasised the Microsoft partnership as its most significant move to becoming more software-centric.

"This is a very special alliance" with Microsoft, which includes "a deep relationship with R&D, go-to-market and services ... it allows [Nortel] to push advanced Unified Communications technology faster than we would have been able to on our own."