UC Takes a Village, Says Gartner Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications

The road to a cohesive unified communications (UC) strategy is still fraught with confusion and integration obstacles, as companies continue to grapple with its true definition amidst a quickly maturing market, according to Gartner Research's latest Magic Quadrant on UC.

Bern Elliot, a vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, explains that UC has never been a "precisely defined" technical term and is used by vendors in marketing and product literature in ways that will make sense for them. "UC came out of two big changes in the communications industry," he explains. "First, it was the move to [Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol] on all networks. Second, communications largely shifted to open platforms or software servers as opposed to being on dedicated hardware."

The report focuses on enterprise premises solutions, and while Elliot says oftentimes the goal is to provide companies with a single, cohesive solution, this isn't the case with UC yet -- nor should it be. "Realistically today, it is not possible to get good functionality in all key areas from a single vendor," he says. "Even if it were, you wouldn't want to because you lose choice, control, and a certain amount of negotiation on price."

Elliot urges companies looking into UC to look for several key partners that can provide good solutions, and have them work together to get the entire solution into the enterprise. "Many companies are not going to move away from their email or voice vendors," he says. "They may consolidate, but it is not practical to get away from them entirely."

This leads to three of the reasons why enterprise adoption of UC continues to increase, yet adoption rates remain low. Elliot says a mix of large pre-existing investments in communication infrastructures, complex applications, and a soft return on investment argument innate to UC have caused issues so far, but in the next several years will work themselves out. "As UC technologies and products are deployed, the challenge will shift from technology issues to organizational and change management," he writes in the report.

It's not a quick fix, though. Elliot predicts at least 90 percent of enterprises will need at least three vendors to get their complete UC portfolio through 2015. "That's an important message," Elliot says. "You have vendors saying they can do it all ... it's just not the best thing for enterprises to do."

There was very little change in the Magic Quadrant this year with regard to vendor placement, speaking to the space's growing maturity, Elliot says. "In the first few years we saw a lot of movement from year to year, but in the past two years, it has become very stable."

A notable change was Avaya's jump into the Leaders Quadrant this year. According to Elliot, it's Avaya Aura Communication Server, Modular Messaging UM product, Interaction Center, and Session Manager all help to clarify the company's roadmap. "It gives Avaya a better way to show how they can work in heterogeneous environments," he adds.

Other vendors in the Leaders Quadrant include:

  • Alcatel-Lucent;
  • Cisco Systems;
  • IBM;
  • Microsoft; and
  • Siemens Enterprise Communications.

Players in the crowded Niche Players Quadrant include:

  • Aastra Technologies;
  • Mitel;
  • SAP;
  • ShoreTel;
  • TeleWare; and
  • Toshiba.

NEC was the lone Challenger this year, while Interactive Intelligence and Nortel found themselves in the Visionaries Quadrant.

"The activity I see with companies I'm speaking with is in developing a plan and roadmap for UC," Elliot says. "It's a good time to start making plans to execute ... but not to go out and start buying. Make sure you have a plan that is comprehensive across the entire organization."

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