Gartner Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications 2015 - The Maturity Maze

11 Aug 2015

This year's Gartner Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications (UCMQ) was published on August 10. As usual, Gartner experts Bern Elliot and Steve Blood have packed a solid summary of the industry status, industry trends, and leading vendors into a concise report. For those who which to read the entire report, a complimentary copy is available from Microsoft here:

First, let's set the stage. No vendors were added to or dropped from the UCMQ this year. In fact, the only significant change was that Unify and ShoreTel swapped places with Unify moving from Visionaries to Niche Players and ShoreTel moving the other way to Visionaries. Microsoft and Cisco continued to circle around each other at the top of the Leaders quadrant. Here are the current standings (in order of "Ability to Execute"):

But the rankings are never the entire story, so let's get some highlights.

The UCMQ headline is intriguing:

"Gartner considers the large enterprise UC market to be mature, though product capabilities, market focus and vendor strengths vary. As a result, enterprises should carefully match their own priorities to vendor strengths before committing to a solution."

What does that mean? As you read the report, the story unfolds. For the most part, the product innovation phase of unified communications is complete. So, sales teams can't flash their latest announcement and just say, "Wow, look at this new shiny object; you'd better get this in a hurry."

Rather, the challenge remains, as always, to provide some real business or organizational value. Vendors and their sales and implementation teams now need to present and support solid business justifications for purchases and actual customer deployments of UC solutions. A primary UCMQ theme and caution in the vendor-by-vendor reviews is that the vendors need to advance in enabling their sales channels to represent more than just the core telephony offers (for the IP-PBX-based vendors) or the core document processing offers (for the email-based vendors).

Closely related is Gartner's message that success in UC often requires interoperation with existing communications systems and with business applications and business processes. Right on page 1, Bern and Steve write, "The primary goal of all unified communications (UC) solutions is to improve user productivity and to enhance business processes as related to communications and collaboration." In other words, as we have said here at UCStrategies since the beginning, the "unified" part is not just mashing up all the different communications methods; rather, unified communications is, "Communications integrated to optimize business processes."

This is still a major gap area for most of the vendors, though some are addressing it reasonably well. For example, Unify's Openscape Fusion is a set of packaged integrations to leading business applications. Also, many of the vendor's products, such as Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise's OpenTouch Suite or IBM's Sametime, can be deployed as overlays or integrations with other vendors' telephony switches. On the other hand, the UC&C world is waiting for either Microsoft or Cisco to really get a grip and provide great interoperation between Microsoft Lync/Skype for Business and Cisco Collaboration/Unified Communications Manager. Vendors who remove the costs and risks of integrations will likely see gains in their UC revenues.

The UCMQ also brings out the emphasis that many vendors are putting on their application development toolkits and the nurturing of their developer communities. Of course, Microsoft and IBM have been leaders in the world of middleware and APIs for decades, and they continue to build on their strengths. This year's UCMQ notices Cisco's acquisition of Tropo, a communications platform as a service (i.e. cloud-based) provider with a developer community of 200,000. Others, including Avaya and Unify, have application development tools though they and others must continue to expand their developer communities.

Besides those key points, are there any hidden messages of this year's UCMQ? Seems to me there is one big message, in two parts: UC is not about telephony any more. Inclusion in the UCMQ still requires, "a significant market presence in telephony and in three or more of the six core communications areas defined in Gartner's UC model." (The six areas are Telephony, Conferencing, Messaging, Presence/IM, Clients, and Communications-enabled Applications.)

However, you can see from the report and from the market that:

1. The vendors are moving beyond telephony as collaborative communications evolves. Cisco Spark and Unify Circuit are both offering messaging-first collaboration tools with peer-to-peer IP-based communications that have no connection to a PBX or to the PSTN. Of course, both vendors are trying to stay relevant and competitive in the growing market for Social Software in the Workplace (another Gartner MQ) where Microsoft (with Yammer, SharePoint), IBM (with IBM Connections), Jive Software, Salesforce and Tibco comprise the Leaders quadrant. Other vendors, notably Google, are certainly seeking to lead in collaborative solutions.

2. Transactional communications are being "unified" into the business applications themselves. For example, provides users in the sales and services industries with all the communications tools they need (including at least four of Gartner's six UC categories) right in, using native email functions plus the Chatter application. It's also no secret that SAP, Oracle, IBM and Microsoft (Dynamics) already have rich communications tools available to be integrated with their business process and vertical industry solutions.

These two factors are almost certainly one of the reasons that Gartner says, "The stakes for vendors in the enterprise UC market are exceedingly high and, in some cases, existential." Those who can find the ways to empower their channels, to integrate with existing systems and applications in both horizontal and vertical markets, and to "optimize business processes" for their customers have a huge opportunity to capture value and growth. Those who ignore those trends will be sharing revenues of a continually shrinking enterprise voice telephony market space.

So, UC market maturity is a maze which the vendors must navigate successfully to deliver new and compelling value to their prospects, if they wish to grow the UC industry and their shares of that market space. We wish all vendors well in their quest, as their success must necessarily benefit their customers and, thus, society in general. Good luck, all.

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