Top 10 UC Stories of 2015
Here's my take on the hottest news of the outgoing year.
Unified communications made a bunch of headlines in many ways in 2015. Here are the trends and events that I consider to be the most newsworthy.
1. The battle for No. 3 heats up. Cisco and Microsoft have the top two spots locked up in UC (see related post, Cisco-Microsoft Collaboration Market Tug-of-War Continues). The question is, which vendor will secure the third position? In 2014 we saw many of the other UC vendors go through some kind of major event -- Alcatel-Lucent spun off its enterprise business to China Huaxin, Siemens Enterprise rebranded itself Unify, Avaya went through a major financial restructure, ShoreTel created a unified back end for its cloud and premises solution, and Mitel went on a bit of a shopping spree. This year, these companies stopped talking about transformation and started executing on their plans. From a share perspective, Avaya has the inside track but plenty of other vendors are nipping at its heels. In 2016, we should see this battle heat up in a big way as the non-Cisco/Microsoft vendors look to one-up each other.
2. Cisco reloads. Prior to 2015, Cisco's Collaboration business had fallen on hard times, plagued by several consecutive years of declining revenue. When Rowan Trollope joined Cisco in 2012 to run the business unit, and he immediately changed the group's focus from engineering to user experience. The result? A banner 2015 in which each quarter showed significant year-over-year growth. In addition, Cisco launched a new line of collaboration endpoints, pushed Spark into general availability, cut a deal with Apple, and acquired Tropo and Acano. Cisco set a high bar in 2015; let's see if it can keep the momentum going in 2016.
3. Mitel buys Mavenir. Over the past several years, Mitel has been one of the most active UC vendors with respect to mergers and acquisitions. It brought Inter-Tel and Aastra under its wing, and last year launched a failed attempt to do the same with ShoreTel. Activist investors have shown interest in the company, too, this year pushing the idea of a merger between Mitel and Polycom. As interesting as these activities have been, the more intriguing move was the company's decision in March to acquire Mavenir, a provider of software-based solutions to mobile operators. At the time, this seemed like an odd move, with no obvious link between enterprise UC and carrier mobility. However, Mitel has revealed how Mavenir allows it to treat UC as something to be integrated at a network level, which is a unique capability today.
4. Microsoft brings voice to its cloud. Cloud communications has been red-hot over the past five years, with almost every UC solution provider having rolled out a solution for voice delivered via the cloud. The one notable exception had been Microsoft, whose Office 365 cloud solution did not include a voice service. In 2015, however, Microsoft announced the integration of voice features into Office 365, with some capabilities available this year and full feature parity with the premises solution a target for 2018. It will be interesting to see how quickly Microsoft is able to integrate newly acquired Talko mobile business communications app into Office 365. Microsoft can use Talko not only to reach parity with the other UC-as-a-service providers, but also to redefine what a call is and leap ahead of the competition.
5. Workstream collaboration and communications (WCC) comes alive. WCC tools, which start with group messaging and blend in real-time and other asynchronous communications, hit the market in a big way in 2015. As the momentum continued building behind Slack, Cisco Spark and Unify Circuit went into general availability and RingCentral scooped up Glip to jump into the market. However, I think the biggest advancement is the development of some good use cases across a wide variety of verticals helping buyers understand how to best leverage these new WCC tools. We should expect to see greater integration between WCC and UC in 2016, including through M&A and partnership activities.
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