Original article by  via CRN

The enterprise unified communications market is now matured and hitting the mainstream audience in 2015.

“You can see that this market is now past the early stage and is now in the mainstream environment,” said analyst Bern Elliot, who co-wrote market research firm Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for UC, in an interview with CRN. “One of the things that happens in a mainstream environment is that execution becomes more important than innovation.”

A total of 11 vendors made the 2015 Garner Magic Quadrant list representing the leaders in enterprise UC solutions, including Avaya, Cisco, Microsoft and Mitel, each of which has strengths and weaknesses that partners and customers need to know.

“The market is going to change, and all the vendors need to figure out how they’re going to exist in a changed environment, where you have a few vendors like Microsoft who [are] going to take a large part of market share,” said Elliot. “So vendors need to know how they’re going to compete in an environment like that.”

Enterprises are facing difficult choices between a longer-term commitment to an on-premise approach and a cloud strategy. The stakes for vendors are “exceedingly high” in the enterprise UC market in 2015, Elliot said

The research is focused on large enterprise UC solutions intended for on-premise deployments. Gartner defines UC products — equipment, software and services — as those that facilitate the use of multiple enterprise communications methods to obtain the goal of improving user productivity and enhancing business processes as related to communications and collaboration.

The Magic Quadrant ranks UC vendors on their ability to execute and completeness of vision. Gartner places vendors into four categories: Niche Players (low on vision and execution), Visionaries (good vision but low execution), Challengers (good execution but low vision) and Leaders (excelling in both vision and execution).

List of Companies

  • Cisco

    The San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant offers a full UC suite of integrated on-premise and cloud-based applications and services based on its Unified Communications Manager. Cisco is ranked No. 1 in vision and No. 2 in execution on the quadrant.

    “They do have a method to their madness,” said Elliot. “They do have a vision, and it’s a big vision, but it is a realistic one.”

    Recent additions include a new WebEx user experience, WebEx Personal Rooms and Cisco Spark — an enterprise mobile messaging application that supports chat, video and file sharing. Cisco also acquired Tropo, a communications Platform-as-a-Service solution, which has a large developer community of about 200,000, Gartner said.

    Strengths: Cisco offers a globally scalable, full UC suite with “good-quality” user experience across all leading mobile devices and “market-leading” conferencing capabilities, according to Gartner. Elliot said that over the past year, Cisco expanded its existing cloud offerings, such as Spark and CMR Cloud, while also beginning its hybrid UC strategy.

    Buying Tropo gives them a developer network and a way to have a large group of partners who can develop or integrate applications with the communications platform,” said Elliot.

    Cautions: Gartner reported that some user and administrator experiences across several UC functions are fragmented.

    “As the Collaboration Technology Group’s product mix shifts to software applications and cloud, Cisco has been slow in making the needed complementary changes in its channels and partner programs,” said the report.

  • Microsoft

    Microsoft rebranded its Lync UC solution as Skype for Business (SfB) with its new server offering a full suite of UC functionality that continues to improve, said Gartner. Microsoft is ranked No. 1 in execution and No. 2 in vision on the quadrant.

    They’re very strong in the market and making good progress,” said Elliot. “They had a vision and executed on that vision. My concern is their focus is on more of the broader Microsoft portfolio than on actually leading all of the requirements that users have on UC.”

    The Redmond, Wash.-based company also advanced SfB Online as part of the broad Office 365 portfolio with plans to introduce public switched telephone network (PSTN) functionality to SfB Online later this year.

    Strengths: Elliot said Microsoft is making significant gains in the UC market and is attractive to a broad range of enterprises. The company is successfully leveraging its dominant position in enterprise IT and its partnering strategy in the space is addressing any gaps it has on a global basis, such as its longtime relationship with Polycom.

    Cautions: Gartner reports that enterprise clients regularly express dissatisfaction with the quality and capabilities of the audioconferencing and videoconferencing functionalities. Telephony users such as administrators and receptionists find handling multiple calls simultaneously through SfB challenging, according to the report.

    “Microsoft sees themselves competing with the broader enterprise portfolio like the Office portfolio as opposed to competing by enhancing specifically the UC functionally, and I think that’s a risk for companies and they need to aware of it,” said Elliot.

  • Avaya

    Avaya’s enterprise Aura Platform is a main driver for the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company, according to Elliot. Gartner says the company offers a broad range of UC desktop, mobile, phone and video clients and endpoints. Avaya is ranked third in execution and fourth in vision on the quadrant.

    “They have a good product and a large market share,” said Elliot. “The reason they’re lower down [is that] their portfolio is not as full as some of the stronger vendors. They have to continue to increase adoption and market momentum for the broader portfolio.”

    Strengths: Avaya’s strength and brand recognition in telephony and contact center help it retain market visibility as it builds its overall UC portfolio, says Elliot. The company’s architecture gives customers choice and flexibly.

    Avaya’s acquisition of Esna Technologies this year also strengthens Avaya’s middleware capability and simplifies integration with business applications, such as Salesforce, according to the report.

    Cautions: Avaya is losing market share to competitors as the market continues to evolve.

    “Avaya needs to stabilize its revenue, given that it has posted a year-over-year revenue decline in each of the last 13 quarters,” said the report. ” Also, the company’s debt level remains heavy.”

  • Mitel

    Mitel’s MiCollab UC suite is the common solution across its multiple call management platforms. MiCollab 7, scheduled to become available this month, will extend the new UC client beyond the current MiVoice Business platform to include support for all Mitel’s enterprise call management platforms, according to the report.

    “They understand how to bring a portfolio together through a collaboration overlay,” said Elliot.

    The Ontario, Canada-based company is ranked third in vision and among the middle of the pack in execution on the quadrant.

    Strengths: Mitel’s 2014 acquisition and implementation of Aastra has expanded market reach significantly, while its recent purchase of Mavenir — a provider of software-based network solution for mobile carriers — positions it in market adjacencies for offering value-added UC services, said Elliot.

    Mitel’s solutions are also based on a common software architecture that can be distributed or centralized in the data center, says Gartner.

    Cautions: In order to succeed, Mitel needs to advance and integrate its MiCollab and cloud solutions across a more broad base of clients and products, says Gartner. The company also needs to make sure its channel partners are able to sell more than the base PBX function

  • ALE

    With the complete separation of ALE from its parent company, Alcatel-Lucent, set for September, ALE is ready to refocus on UC, said Elliot.

    “The former Alcatel Lucent Enterprise group — they were languishing there. They were not in control of where they wanted to go, because they were a small part of a much larger company focused on the carrier market,” said Elliot. “The company is now back in control in its destiny.”

    ALE’s UC solution remains the Alcatel-Lucent OpenTouch Suite — a fully unified and integrated UC solution that scales to 5,000 users and 15,000 endpoints. ALE is ranked amongst the middle of the group for vision and in the upper half for execution on the quadrant.

    Strengths: OpenTouch offers a full multi-party, multi-device and multimedia UC suite with a competitive total cost of ownership that can operate on-premise, in the cloud or with hybrid functions, according to the report.

    Gartner says the separation from China Huaxin was positive because “it improves the clarity of ALE’s future.”

    Now they’re not constrained by a parent who is controlling their expenditures and strategy,” said Elliot.

    Cautions: ALE is significantly lacking in visibility in North America, which limits its appeal to multinational companies. Elliot said ALE must also now prove that it can execute and grow its business without China Huaxin in a highly competitive market.

  • NEC

    NEC’s Univerge 3C software is a fully integrated, complete UC suite based on a Web- and service-oriented architecture and on open standards, said Gartner. The Irving, Texas-based company is ranked among the upper half for execution but is one of the lowest in vision on the quadrant.

    They have the pieces but they need to execute and also create a vision to where they’re going to be in three years as the market evolves,” said Elliot.

    Strengths: “NEC has a full UC solution and it has a strong company behind it,” said Elliot.

    Gartner says NEC has a forward-looking UC and collaboration architecture that includes a “rich set” of functions in a standards-based SOA environment, backed by a broad communications portfolio. The platform’s virtualization capabilities and software architecture — along with the increased software-defined networking and software-defined data center capabilities of the broader NEC portfolio — are a good fit for data center environments.

    Cautions: Some channel partners in the North American and European markets, and many outside of those markets, are not enabled to support Univerge 3C. NEC needs to continue to expand its partner base and its partner enablement programs, said Elliot.

    NEC is also not well-known compared with competitors and needs to improve its global brand marketing, Gartner said.

  • IBM

    IBM UC solution Sametime Complete offers chat, meetings, a mobile client, real-time collaboration, HD video, and SIP-based telephony and video integration. Sametime is part of IBM’s broader Connections Suite that includes social software, content management and social analytics.

    “They really wish to have Sametime considered within the broader of what they call the Connections Suite, which is more of a social and content management environment,” said Elliot.

    Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM is ranked in the middle of the group for both vision and execution.

    Strengths: IBM’s brand, partner network and professional services organization help Sametime in gaining visibility and marketing presence, executing custom integration, and delivering vertical-specific solutions, according to the report. The company offers an open framework for coexisting with legacy communications infrastructure, rather than competing with it.

    Cautions: “They’re not really getting a lot of adoption,” said Elliot.

    Elliot said IMB is focusing its strategy on social solutions and has yet to invest in its Sametime UC solution at the same pace as competing UC vendors.

  • ShoreTel

    ShoreTel’s new Connect platform unifies its on-premise and cloud platforms — supporting the full set of UC functionality, from peer-to-peer video and support for communications to room-based systems from strategic partners. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based vendor is ranked in the middle of the group for vision, but near the bottom on the execution side.

    “They have to execute on Connect, and if they do, it will be a strong product. It has potential because it is a truly hybrid premise-cloud offer,” said Elliot.

    Strengths: ShoreTel users report high customer satisfaction because their solutions are easy to use, according to Elliot. “They keep the mantra of keeping it simple and that’s a good focus,” he said.

    Cautions: Gartner says the vendor doesn’t have enterprise visibility outside the telecommunications space, which makes it difficult to gain acceptance in enterprise as a full UC and collaboration provider.

    Connect is primarily geared toward SMBs with fewer than 2,000 users, according to the report.

  • Unify

    Unify’s OpenScape portfolio provides a full, integrated suite of UC functions in three configurations targeting midsize and large enterprises as well as SMBs. The Munich-based vendor is ranked near the bottom of the quadrant for both execution and vision.

    “They have a good product, but what they need to do is execute on it,” said Elliot. “They have to execute on UC while also developing a vision for how UC solutions will evolve and compete.

    Strengths: Unify has a strong emphasis on open interoperability by offering integration options with leading collaboration and business applications, such as those from IBM, Microsoft and Google, said Gartner.

    Elliot said OpenScape is a mature solution that can operate with various existing telephony deployments.

    Cautions: Unify has placed “significant resources” on its next-generation UC-as-a-Service solution Circuit, although the market demand for this type of solution has yet to be proven, says Gartner.

    As it is a privately held company, its lack of financial disclosure makes it difficult for analysts and customers to assess the company. Unify also needs to prove it can execute in a competitive environment after its recent restructuring, said Elliot.

  • Huawei

    The China-based vendor has a comprehensive portfolio of communications products and services. The Huawei eSpace Unified Communications solution is made up of a broad set of applications, telephony, presence, messaging, multiple conferencing options, video, collaboration and contact center, according to the report. The solution runs on Huawei servers and virtualized platforms.

    Huawei is ranked near the bottom for execution and last for vision on the quadrant.

    “They have a really strong base in their infrastructure and the UC is an addition onto that,” said Elliot. “So far they appear to be more of a follower in technology than a leader, and they have not succeeded in entering new markets at the level we want from a strong leader.”

    Strengths: Huawei captured $46 billion in revenue for 2014, a 20 percent increase year over year. The company’s strength across other global markets provides a base on which UC solutions can grow, according to the report.

    Elliot said Huawei has a full UC product portfolio and continues to make progress with expanding its presence and partners in emerging markets, including some countries in Europe.

    Cautions: “Their home market is not as oriented toward enterprise UC the way the Western markets are,” said Elliot. “They’re not well-established in the Western markets. If they wish to become stronger in this particular market, they need to execute with UC, not just UC as part of a complete solution set.”

    Huawei faces political, trade and intellectual property trust issues in the U.S. market, said Gartner, with limited public references in Western Europe and North America.

  • Interactive Intelligence

    Interactive Intelligence’s Customer Interaction Center is an “all-in-one” software solution that offers both contact center and UC functionality that is attractive to enterprises focused on contact centers that also want to offer integrated UC functionality, said Gartner. The Indianapolis-based software vendor is ranked near the bottom for vision and last for execution on the quadrant.

    “They’re a good example of a company that knows what it wants to be,” said Elliot. “If you have a lot of contact center in your company and you want UC, Interactive Intelligence is a good source for that.”

    Strengths: Interactive has been successful with its innovative and flexible deployment offerings that allow enterprises to convert on-premise deployments to cloud-based deployments, or vice versa. The company’s financials are “good” and have seen “several years of very good growth,” said Gartner.

    Elliot said that although it is known for contact center products, its customers are purchasing both its UC and contact center solutions.

    Cautions: Interactive and its UC products have limited visibility in a market dominated by larger vendors, while global coverage also remains limited in some regions, including parts of Asia and Eastern Europe, according to the report.

    Gartner says Customer Interaction Center’s Web and videoconferencing capabilities are not as robust as its competitors’ and may not be a cost-effective solution for enterprises without strong contact center requirements.

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