Gartner recently published its 2015 Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications and, to me, the big takeaway is, it’s tough to find a big takeaway. Rather, the report offers a number of smaller takeaways that collectively paint a decent picture – just decent, not crystal clear – of where UC technology is headed.
Unified Communications (UC) Market Maturity Level
Let’s start with the UC market maturity level. Here’s what Gartner says in the introduction to this year’s report (emphasis mine):
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.
Contrast that to last year when Gartner said the midsize and large enterprise market was in the “early mainstream adoption phase.” (Gartner broke out midmarket UC offerings to its own Magic Quadrant report for the first time in 2015.)
But wait. In the “Context” section near the end of the this year’s report, Gartner has this to say with respect to maturity (again, emphasis is mine):
Gartner considers UC to be an "early mainstream solution," which means that, while solutions are available from multiple vendors, the best practices for UC users, administrators and system integrators have not yet matured. Key solution deficiencies include lack of important features, lack of integration options, lack of client functionality or missing functions on mobile devices, or lack of scaling for more demanding environments. Key best practices that are still maturing include those for selecting, pricing and deploying solutions, and those needed for increasing end-user adoption. Gartner believes it will take several years of incremental improvements to address these early mainstream issues.
So, to sum up, Gartner says UC products are mature, even though they’re missing a bunch of important features. And UC best practices are definitely not mature. Seems like the “early mainstream” label might’ve been more appropriate throughout.
Little Movement in 2015 UC Magic Quadrant from 2014
In terms of differences between vendor rankings this year from last, they are slim indeed.
The Leader quadrant has the same players as last year, with just some slight movements. Last year Microsoft and Cisco were equal in terms of ability to execute while Microsoft had a slight edge in terms of “vision.” This year, Microsoft has a slight edge in terms of ability to execute while Cisco holds the edge in “vision.” Avaya and Mitel are pretty much unchanged near the bottom left of the leader quadrant.
Challengers are likewise the same, with just two players: NEC and Alcatel Lucent Enterprise (ALE, the new name for Alcatel Lucent’s UC unit following its acquisition by the Chinese investment firm China Huaxin).
Unify has moved out of the Visionaries category into Niche, while ShoreTel moved from Niche to Visionaries. IBM stays put in the Visionaries category and moves up a bit in terms of its ability to execute.
Huawei and Interactive Intelligence remain in the Niche quadrant.
Larger Focus on Developers in 2015 UC Magic Quadrant
One somewhat significant change this year is a larger focus on each vendor’s development community. In fact, “developer network” was added as a sixth characteristic that will have an affect on a vendor’s success with UC and user satisfaction. (The other five are user experience, mobility, interoperability, cloud and hybrid, and broad solution appeal.)
This makes sense as it’s developers who will do a lot of the heavy lifting to integrate UC solutions with the applications that users employ every day, making UC more useful. When you consider all the various applications that exist across myriad vertical markets, that’s a huge undertaking.
In terms of strong developer support, Gartner gives props to Avaya, saying:
Avaya Engagement Development Platform (EDP) and Avaya Snapins enable developers to quickly create unique communications enabled workflows and processes. The Esna Technologies acquisition, which closed on 28 May 2015, strengthens Avaya's middleware capability and simplifies integration with business applications, such as Salesforce.
Cisco likewise got some love for its acquisition in June of Tropo, which Gartner says has “a communications platform as a service (cPaaS) solution with a large developer community of 200,000 that will speed development of communications integrated with targeted vertical and mobile applications.”
Microsoft was likewise singled out. “The vendor continues to advance a strong partner strategy, helping it to address the diverse range of enterprise requirements on a global basis,” Gartner says.
Interesting Takeaways & Tidbits from the 2015 Gartner Magic Quadrant for UC
Otherwise, following are what I thought were the most interesting tidbits of insight that Gartner had on the leading UC players.
Under strengths for IBM Gartner cited its open approach:
IBM's approach offers an open framework for coexisting with legacy communications infrastructure, rather than competing with it.
Microsoft, meanwhile, got kudos for its work with video:
Significant improvements this year are in the area of video, with the addition of the SfB (Skype for Business) Video Interop Server, which allows native integration with certain thirdparty video teleconferencing systems, the ability to make video calls over the Internet with Skype consumer users and the Surface Hub team collaboration device that integrates with SfB meetings.
Gartner also had some words of caution for those considering Microsoft:
Microsoft has announced intentions to deliver PSTN and other services in Office 365, and to integrate these with onpremises telephony in some cases. However, the public roadmap today does not include the detail required for planning and for comparing the options. Additionally, in some cases, it appears that Microsoft will be directly competing with some partner offers in the near future.
Mitel got high marks for making last year’s acquisition of Aastra pay off:
Mitel has expanded its market reach significantly with the Aastra acquisition, and has leveraged the synergy across the two companies. This has increased the overall competitiveness of Mitel in both EMEA and North America, where, according to Gartner, in 4Q14, the combined company is the No. 1ranked telephony vendor in Western Europe, No. 4 in North America and No. 4 worldwide.
ShoreTel just recently introduced its latest UC offering, which Gartner seems to like:
In June 2015, ShoreTel introduced its new Connect product. While Connect draws from the existing ShoreTel 14 distributed architecture, it incorporates significant upgrades, enabling the same software to be used in both customer on premises deployments and in ShoreTel's own cloud UCaaS offering. …Together, these enable hybrid deployments as well as redundant appliance deployments as desired.
A caveat for ShoreTel is that its platform is “primarily geared toward small and midsize organizations of under 2,000 users,” Gartner says.