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Three Key Takeaways from Gartner's 2016 Critical Capabilities for Unified Communications Report

Posted by Kevin Gulley

Aug 24, 2016

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Gartner’s recently released Critical Capabilities for Unified Communications report is great reading, and contains the usual breakdown of major players in the UC space and how they perform against certain key metrics.  They break down vendor performance in four key categories, including those offering: Full UC with Strong Telephony, Full UC with Strong Collaboration Capabilities,  Full UC for Midsize Organizations and the Ability to Offer Hybrid Solutions.  Kudos to Cisco...they come out on top in all four categories against significant competitors including Microsoft, Avaya, Mitel, ALE, ShoreTel, Interactive Intelligence, Huawei and NEC.  I would definitely suggest taking a read through the details.

However, as is often the case, I was more intrigued by their analysis of changes in the marketplace than the breakdown of the vendors.  In reading between the lines, I found three key takeaways about how the UC market is changing and how businesses are evolving as communications technology and workflows change.

Telephony is a Commodity, No Longer a Differentiator

Over the course of the report, Gartner touches on telephony on several occasions.  They point out that:

Telephony now includes messaging, where the focus is on voice and unified messaging. These are now generic, undifferentiated capabilities that are becoming less important and no longer justify a dedicated critical capability.

Whoa. Gartner basically just said telephony a commodity.  They suggest that end-of-support notices for PBX’s and the desire not to invest in new IP-PBX platforms are continuing to drive interest in UC, both on-premise and in the cloud.  However, they recommend that enterprises:

Carry out a discovery exercise based on user analysis to understand how communications and collaboration needs are changing — especially related to telephony — to decide if the capabilities offered by your proposed UC vendor are good enough to drive a single-platform approach.

Good enough is the phrase that stands out in my mind.  We have all modified our expectations over the last 5 years as to what is acceptable quality on a phone call, haven’t we?  With people connecting from everywhere (homes, cabs, hotels), you never know which network or broadband connection is going to be the one that causes jitter.  Businesses certainly don’t want it to be caused by something they can control, but the days of 100% perfect call quality regardless of who is on the phone look to be a thing of the past and companies can only do so much about it.  Gartner seems to be saying, make sure your UC provider can deliver the goods, but you probably don’t need a separate vendor just for voice.

Conferencing is All About Video, Seamless Integration and Escalation

Just about the first thing Gartner points out in the report is that desktop and mobile video conferencing are becoming increasingly key components of UC solutions, as is the integration of desktop solutions with group video systems.  Delivering on this is obviously an area of focus for UC vendors, with Cisco’s acquisition of Acano a visible sign, as is the recent collaboration between Cisco and Microsoft’s Skype for Business on Cisco’s Meeting Server solution.  When it comes to video, this is an area that:

In some cases, vendors use partners to complete a total solution or, in other cases, they use application programming interfaces (APIs) and standards to integrate separate products.

They don't mention any by name, but Polycom, Vidyo and others are betting on these partnerships.  Another point that I found interesting, was the need for conferencing to become more tightly integrated so that:

conferencing should include meeting room technologies, multipoint webcam approaches, and integrated solutions that integrate room-based and remote users. Users should be able to move between the different conferencing modes (for example, audio, video, web and instant messaging) without having to restart conference sessions.

I couldn’t agree with that more.

Workstream Collaboration is Here is a Big Way

We’ve been talking about the blurring of lines between messaging-based workstream appsm - like Slack and HipChat - and UC solutions, and Gartner focuses on this in a big way.  One of their four ‘key findings’ is:

Emergent cloud-based workstream collaboration services are very competitive with current on-premises-oriented UC solutions and can create conflicts, especially when both are offered by the same vendor.

Gartner defines the emerging ‘workstream collaboration’ solutions as “ immersive, rapid-response, collaborative work models that improve team agility and effectiveness by encouraging greater self-organization, self-management, and localized decision making.”  Because of their effectiveness and the fact that the almost entirely cloud-based products in this space often offer plug-in models that allow codeless integration to business applications and UC solutions, businesses are quickly adopting these solutions to enhance workflows.  In fact, interest levels are so high that Gartner is recommending enterprises:

Use a bimodal IT approach to managing current-generation UC solutions and the emerging next generation of workstream collaboration tools.

So there you have it...telephony is assumed, video has to work everywhere and be easy and workstream collaboration is blurring the lines between UC and project execution and is here to stay.  Let us know what you think the major trends are impacting the enterprise communications space in the comments section below.

Topics: Voice, video, collaboration, Gartner, Telephony