Is It a Two-Horse Race?
Are Cisco and Microsoft pulling away from the rest of the communications field?
At last week's Lync Conference, I participated in and overheard many conversations regarding the state of the UC industry. A major topic was based on the question: Is our industry coming down to a two-horse race?
The reference is to what many consider the frontrunners in our industry--Cisco and Microsoft. This reference also implies that Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, IBM, Mitel, NEC, ShoreTel and Siemens are not even at the track.
As our industry has and will continue to evolve, we see horses/vendors competing at several tracks/markets. When you ask the question, who has the best UC solution, you find different winners based on what UC service you are discussing. For example, until Derek Burney's keynote address at the Lync Conference last week, where he did a live demo of Lync running on all the popular mobile platforms, the Lync horse was not seen at the mobility track (or was running with the pack in the back). Now they are in the race.
UC has been the driving force behind the development of a number of new race tracks that the "two horses" may not win. IBM clearly leads in social business, and as the dependence on PBX call control declines, they may win at the social business track.
Avaya has some exciting innovation coming for their contact center portfolio. This is an area where Microsoft must currently depend on partners. Based on Tony Bates's keynote at the Lync Conference, this may be an area of innovation in the future for Microsoft. A new track is being built for those that will leverage Skype in their contact center. Look for a small innovative contact center to win the first race, but this an important track and the major players will soon follow. Again, look for Microsoft to innovate in this space, as they have done with UC.
Hosted/cloud will be a very busy track. There will be a lot of races in different categories at this track. Interactive Intelligence is the one to beat in the hosted contact center space.
In the hosted UC space, the "two horses" have some compelling offerings, but there are others that could do very well. NEC has developed a good product based on their Sphere acquisition, but more importantly they are addressing the needs of the channel to migrate from box sales revenue to a reccurring revenue model.
In the 1980s a little rugged-mil-spec (military specification) computer company called ROLM got into the PBX business and became a major player. In the current generation, we may see small companies succeed in the hosted/cloud market: ShoreTel made acquired M5 to get into this space, 8X8 is doing well, and Thinking Phones has integrated communications into business processes (UC Strategies' definition of UC) since they started delivering cloud solutions.
Now, back to the question of the two-horse race. One of the reasons many think this way is based on the strength of Cisco and Microsoft, and in some cases the weakness of their competitors. Microsoft has a lot of money and patience. They don't live quarter to quarter like some of their smaller competitors and they make constant mid-course corrections. Cisco has a lot of cash and uses it to acquire what they need. They do pay the price of integrating the new product, but this is a model that has served them well.
Avaya and IBM are the 2 horses most discussed as missing from the race. Time will tell on how both fare in this market.