Unified Communications: Through the Magic (Quadrant) Glassby Dave Michels in Telecom
The Magic Quadrant, put forth by Gartner is a graphical representation of the competitive landscape in a given industry or sector. The X axis measures a vendor’s “Completeness of Vision”. The more to the right, the more complete the vision. The Y axis measures a vendor’s “Ability to Execute”, the higher the better the ability. A complete vision with a strong ability to execute places a vendor in the “Magic Quadrant” or the upper right quadrant.
Gartner has used the Magic Quadrant for decades – it is a simple way to communicate complex thoughts behind vendor positioning.
But I found two recent reports somewhat contradictory and confusing. The reports in question are “Magic Quadrant for Corporate Telephony” August 5, 2009 and “Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications” September 1, 2009.
The Corporate Telephony Report opens with “The corporate telephony market is under increasing pressure – from new entrants in unified communications…Organizations still need an IP telephony road map today, but it should become a subcomponent of a UC strategy.”
This suggests several very important conclusions/thoughts:
- Corporate Telephony is a subcomponent of Unified Communications
- Corporate Telephony is VoIP
- Corporate Telephony is in competition with Unified Communications
- Unified Communications is a strategy not a product
- IP telephony “should” (not “can”) become part of a UC strategy
The following vendors were included in the corporate telephony report: 3Com, Aastra, Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, Cisco, Digium, Microsoft, NEC, Nortel, Siemens Enterprise Group, ShoreTel, and Toshiba.
The Unified Communications Report opens with “Unified Communications offers the ability to improve how individuals, groups, and companies interact and perform tasks…Key technologies include (IP)-PBX, VoIP, presence, E-mail, audio/web conferencing, videoconferencing, voice mail, unified messaging, instant messaging, and various forms of mobility. Another key capability of UC is…’communication-enabled business process’ (CEBP)…No vendor product adequately addresses all of an enterprise’s UC needs. As a result, planners should not expect their UC requirements to be met by one vendor’s products.”
This suggests the following important conclusions/thoughts:
- A large chunk of UC is voice related and offered by most of the IP-PBX makers (IP-PBX, VoIP, presence, audio/web conferencing, videoconferencing, voice mail, unified messaging, instant messaging, and various forms of mobility)
- CEBP requires APIs or customization capabilities
- A complete vision is not equal to a complete product offering – thus partnerships and standards are presumably important
- UC includes but does not require multiple technologies. Thus a stand alone PBX with voice mail could qualify as a UC solution so long as it improves interaction.
The following vendors were included in the UC report: Aastra Technologies, Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, Cisco, IBM, Interactive Intelligence, Microsoft, Mitel, NEC, Nortel, SAP, Siemens Enterprise Group, ShoreTel, TeleWare, and Toshiba.
- The concept of completeness of vision seems impossible to rate in this situation. On one hand, the corporate telephony report considers phone systems a subcomponent of UC. How complete of a vision do we expect from subcomponents? On the UC report, it states no vendor adequately addresses all the needs. So in both cases, the conclusion is a partnership of two or more vendors is required for a broad UC solution, but the report doesn’t evaluate/score potential partnerships. Subtract out UC, then what is a complete vision on a phone system? All of the innovation, R&D;, and marketing materials from the VoIP players are around UC capabilities.
- Is Voice required for UC? All but two of the corporate telephony vendors are included in the UC report. The UC report also includes core systems vendors such as IBM and SAP. Where is the line drawn? Neither IBM or SAP directly offer voice solutions. So if partnership is ok, why not include vendors such as HP, Juniper, Dell, or even Skype? Dell is a great example as they are rarely considered a UC player…but starting with Dell’s blade servers and adding Microsoft software (OCS, Exchange) plus Polycom USB phones connected to Dell desktops and laptops, plus NET gateways plus new Dell Android phones isn’t a UC solution born?
- Gartner draws a boundary between CPE and hosted services. “Gartner publishes separate research that reviews UC-as-a-service (UCaaS) solutions.” This seems quite odd, especially when considering the 2010 Top 10 Gartner list (see below) is 50% various cloud (private and public) technologies (cloud computing, virtualization, IT for green, social computing, and mobile applications). I contend that the line between hosted and CPE is going to get very blurry and evaluating them separately devalues the findings. Gartner goes so far as stating multi-vendor approaches are needed, but complementing CPE with various hosted services are not discussed. For example, hosted email (hosted Exchange, POP3 mail, Gmail Apps, etc.) is a significant trend that impacts UC planning and takes away from the Magic Quadrant winners that rely on on-premise messaging solutions.
- Where does Corporate Telephony end and UC begin? The corporate telephony vendors that don’t offer a wide spectrum of UC capabilities were penalized in the quadrant system. Generally, the more comprehensive corporate telephony offerings were also the more comprehensive UC offerings (Magical Quandrants) in both studies. The fact is the market leaders in VoIP are focused on UC technologies and capabilities – virtually all of them offer key components of UC capabilities such as presence, IM, mobility components, audio/video/web conferencing, and more. There are significant differences in approach and capabilities that should attract different customers.
- UC aside, Gartner equates “corporate telephony” with VoIP. I am not convinced – at least at the phone level. Digital phones offer all of the features VoIP solutions offer for a lower price – including click to dial, unified messaging, presence, and more (requires VoIP capability on the call manager).
- All of the corporate telephony vendors were included in the UC report except for Digium and 3Com. I find Digium missing from the UC study a bit confusing considering its growing market share, profitability, and openness/integration capabilities with so many UC related technologies and vendors. Now that HP acquired 3Com, I assume Gartner will consider HP a UC player.
DID UC PEAK?
Earlier this month, Gartner updated its annual list of top technologies for 2010 and completely dropped UC.
I don’t believe UC technologies are any more out of style than they were last year. In fact, with some major wins and repositioning by various market leaders the opposite is true. So why would Gartner drop it?
My suspicion is because the UC and corporate telephony markets (quadrants) are merging and because the terminology is so broadly defined. Look at the new list and it is filled with UC:
- Cloud computing (there is a major shift beginning toward call processing and voice application virtualization)
- Client computing (phones, soft phones, headsets, SIP devices, etc.)
- Reshaping the data center (consolidation and centralization of voice systems)
- Social computing (integration of voice with services such as Twitter)
- Virtualization for availability (voice recovery, using the cloud for overflow capacity)
- Mobility (teleworking, DECT and Wifi phones, FMC, cell phone integration).
Unfortunately, “UC” has become a bit meaningless. Cisco also dropped the UC moniker in exchange for “collaboration”. But this doesn’t really help either as collaboration either only addresses part of the UC equation – or is stretched to become equally broad and confusing (is unified messaging now a collaboration solution?).
The right answer is to put it back to the voice folks as they are surprisingly in agreement about the future. The UC vision from Cisco, Avaya, Mitel and others are not that incongruous. Even smaller players have similar views, but need to rely more on partnerships (which really makes the most sense).
UC solutions are critical, but without a firm agreement or understanding of its scope or meaning it doesn’t promote improved communications. The concept is right and isn’t going anywhere soon. The problem is we already all have phone systems, and don’t need new ones. What is selling is improved communication methods and that involves more tools and capabilities which just might happen to require a new phone system.