Fewer Vendors Sit Atop Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications
The number of frontrunners in Gartner's latest assessment of the unified communications (UC) landscape has gotten smaller. While Alcatel-Lucent, Microsoft, and Nortel are once again earmarked as leaders in the research firm's Magic Quadrant for the sector, Cisco Systems and Siemens -- leaders in last year's report -- have slipped to the quadrants for challengers and visionaries, respectively.
The UC sector, according to report author Bern Elliot, a Gartner research vice president, comprises the equipment, software, and services that enhance productivity by enabling and facilitating the control, management, integration, and use of multiple enterprise communication methods.
In the leaders quadrant, Microsoft again leads all vendors in ability to execute, winning praise from Gartner for the completeness of its overall UC portfolio; strategic partnerships in areas like live voice, IP, and PBX; and established base of desktop applications and experience in graphical user interface design. However, the "telephony functionality in [Office Communications Server] and in Exchange Server 2007 Unified Messaging is new to the market," the report states. "Although these are promising products, telephony and other live communication functionalities, such as video, frequently take several years to mature to the desired levels of reliability, quality of voice service and scalability."
Nortel, which Gartner labels the strongest among the three leaders in completeness of vision, has a comprehensive UC portfolio built around the MCS 5100 and Communications Server 1000, and has proven its ability to work as part of an integrated third-party environment, including Microsoft Live Communications Server and OCS environments, according to the report. Moreover, back in July 2006, Nortel announced that it was teaming up with Microsoft to form a partnership named the Innovative Communications Alliance. The alliance mandates that the companies cross-license intellectual property and form joint teams to collaborate on product development to deliver enterprise, mobile, and wireline carrier solutions; market and sell their joint solutions; develop a series of solutions for SMBs and public and private organizations; craft a training and incentive program for their sales teams; and build a joint channel ecosystem.
While the report states that the partnership delivers tight integration among the complementary parts of the companies' respective offerings, while arming Nortel with access to a new base of prospects and Microsoft with a strengthened telephony portfolio, Gartner also warns that the alliance may create cloudiness around each vendor's parameters. The partnership "can result in confusion about the boundary and responsibility split between these two companies and their products," Elliot writes. "The initiative also creates a mutual dependency, which at some point may be difficult (or expensive) to separate, should this become necessary."
Gartner credits another repeat leader, Alcatel-Lucent (formerly Alcatel, which acquired Lucent in 2006), for its approach of using the muscle of Alcatel enterprise offerings like OmniPCX and OmniTouch Unified Communication with products that integrate with Lucent's and Alcatel's carrier communication products and installed bases. But "[t]echnical and organizational challenges remain in integrating the two large vendors," the report states. "In some cases, this has resulted in a lack of clarity for customers and channel partners, and in product direction."
Meanwhile, Cisco slides into the challengers quadrant, having lost a step according to Gartner's assessment of the completeness of its vision. The vendor is lauded for its strong overall product portfolio and channel program, but the report adds that Cisco's offerings are "network-centric, rather than software-application-focused." This, Elliot writes, "can create interdependencies between the network infrastructure and communication applications operating on the network, making it harder to integrate communications with business applications." Joining Cisco in the quadrant are repeat challengers IBM and Avaya.
AVST, Ericsson, and NEC retain their positions as niche players, joined this year by Adomo, which was absent from last year's Magic Quadrant, and Mitel, which has fallen from its 2006 status as a challenger.
Siemens, however, despite the best rating among all 16 companies in "completeness of vision," has dropped from leader to visionary, having lost points in Gartner's view of its ability to execute. The report highlights the maturity and robustness of the vendor's OpenScape and Siemens HiPath 8000 IP-PBX offerings, its integration with Microsoft OCS 2007, and its partnerships with vertical application providers. But the report also warns that the "lack of clarity regarding the parent corporation's plans for this communication subsidiary slows acceptance of its products." Other vendors landing in the visionaries quadrant include repeat performers Oracle and TeleWare; Interwise, which was absent from last year's Magic Quadrant; and Interactive Intelligence, the only returning vendor to improve its standing, upgrading from niche player to visionary with a better "completeness of vision" rating.
"The UC market and its technologies are maturing, but, overall, the market remains at an early stage of maturity, and the adoption of converged solutions remains slow," Elliot writes. The report underscores several market conditions that are stifling adoption, including the reality that UC best practices are not well defined or well developed and that some newer technologies, such as presence, have yet to be completely understood. "Gartner expects many barriers to slowly be resolved and that, in 2008, UC will enter an early mainstream adoption phase globally. UC offers multiple capabilities and is useful in different ways, depending on the function and users supported," the report states.
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