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Commentary on Gartner's Magic Quadrant for UC

Gartner recently released an updated "Magic Quadrant" for Unified Communications" (UC) that attempts to rate key vendors of UC solutions on two axes: ability to execute, and completeness of vision. Those vendors that score high on both are placed in the coveted "leaders" quadrant. This year the leaders quadrant contains Cisco, Microsoft, Avaya and Siemens Enterprise Communications.

Gartner analysts Bern Elliot and Steve Blood have done an admirable job of distilling a complex market, with diverse vendors, into a relatively simple visual. The initial section of the Gartner report is especially worthwhile reading, as it does a good job of grouping UC products into six areas and suggesting five attributes that may impact user satisfaction.

However, like many simplifying visuals, I would suggest you should keep in mind three items as you apply the comments from the Gartner report to your specific organization's requirements and objectives.

1. The UC solution you should put into your own "leaders quadrant" should be the solution best aligned with your specific business objectives.

I've written before that "ratings without defined requirements is marketing." What I mean by this is that you cannot declare a "better" solution without understanding and defining the evaluation criteria. Similarly, case studies are great if your organization is exactly the same as the organization being profiled. Gartner does a fair job of helping readers understand how the various UC solutions are evaluated; however, the Gartner criteria may not reflect your specific organization's criteria, and comments Gartner includes from other customers may not be applicable to your situation. In any case, a quarter of an inch to the left or right, up or down, becomes a "moot" point. Regardless of Gartner's methodology, minor variations are purely subjective.

Use the Gartner report as input; however it should not be considered a "short cut" from...

a. Defining and prioritizing your key measurable objectives; and,
b. Evaluating multiple viable solutions against your objectives.

Whether you like it or not, an effective evaluation of UC solutions takes time. If you want to "cheat", you can simply select any solution in the leaders quadrant and you might succeed. But you can double or triple your chances of success if you undertake a business requirements gathering and prioritization process--see The Goldilocks Approach: 7 Steps to Get to "Just Right".

2. What's good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander.

The idiom "What's good for the goose is good for the gander" is meant to imply that something that is beneficial for one individual should be beneficial to another. However in the complex world of UC, this is often not the case.

A solution good for one organization might be terrible for your organization.

Some organizations prioritize cost savings over all other criteria. Other organizations emphasize usage and adoption, and focus on improving "speed to decision". Still others seek to validate their previous investments, sometimes integrating with legacy platforms even at the expense of user experience. Quite frankly, many organizations make decisions based on politics (is it networks, apps, or telecom that leads?) or philosophical ideas. (To be clear, I don't suggest or condone either of these approaches, although I do recognize the reality of these influences.)

3. The devil is in the details.

UC, like most complex technology undertakings, often succeeds or fails based on very specific details. "Slideware architectures" that can connect any two systems simply by drawing a double-headed arrow, don't "cut the mustard" (I'm on idiom overload). If you select a solution for your organization based solely on a quadrant diagram or a few slides then you could, and should, be held accountable if the solution does not deliver measurable improvement.

What I enjoy most about the expression, "The devil is in the details" is that it evolved from an expression with precisely the opposite meaning: "God is in the details". To me this is a perfect illustration that while "(blank) is in the details" may be true, the validity of the statement depends entirely upon what is inserted in the "blank". Different considerations can radically alter the meaning and the interpretation.

In focusing on details, I wanted to examine a few points from the Gartner report as examples of how you should evaluate comments before acting upon them ...

a. " is the high-quality end-user experience that will drive adoption and productivity."

This is a "chicken and egg" dilemma (yet another idiom). If a high-quality end-user experience is only proven through adoption and productivity, how do you select a solution ahead of measuring adoption? In my experience, both Cisco Jabber and Microsoft Lync offer solid user experiences. Arguably, any of the leading solutions provides an acceptable experience provided you invest in user training. Please do not delude yourself into believing that a "simple" user interface should require no training. If you do not train your end users then you will not maximize the return from your UC investment.

Next Page: Cisco vs. Microsoft

b. "IBM has leading social software, Web conferencing, portals, business analytics and content management solutions. Together, these provide IBM the opportunity to integrate its UC solutions into a broad range of environments."

The above statement, included in the Gartner report's "strengths" section, pivots on the word "opportunity". The comment from Gartner, while true, reflects more an opportunity for IBM rather than any measurable benefits or opportunities for customers.

The truth is that IBM's UC offering, based on IBM Sametime, seems relegated primarily to the Insurance industry and other organizations that have a large investment in Notes applications. Even Gartner concedes, "Enterprises should consider IBM Sametime products if they have investments in IBM products or professional services that they wish to leverage or if they are committed to the IBM social business strategy." Which in my mind equates to: If you are committed to IBM UC then you might want to stay the course. In for a penny, in for a pound. (The idioms continue.)

c. "Cisco's large data infrastructure client base, along with its strong global channel, services and system integration (SI) partners, position it well within enterprise UC buying and decision-making groups, including many IT and operations departments."

While listed as a product strength, if you "decode" this statement, it simply seems to suggest that Cisco sales and partners reps have a good "rolodex" of contacts. While this might mean that a Cisco sales rep is more likely to give you a call, you need to decide if this means a Cisco solution is a good fit for your organization.

d. "Few IT managers report that they have completely eliminated their PBXs in Lync implementations."

Gartner includes this comment under the "Cautions" section. While the statement might be true, I take issue with the comment, as it obscures the important question of whether Lync is a viable PBX replacement. For the record, the answer is "yes". See my "Living with Lync" series of articles for more details.

For me, the fact that many IT managers have not transitioned to Lync as the primary organization voice platform more likely suggests...

i. Legacy "telecom" is not yet under the control of IT; or,

ii. The group responsible for Lync does not have sufficient real-time/voice/telecom experience (and it is very important that the team that implements Lync voice have real-world voice experience!); or,

iii. There is not a business case to replace existing telephony infrastructure with Lync as the voice platform (often this is the case if the "book value" of the legacy telephony environment is high); or,

iv. The IT managers lack the understanding of Lync and/or lack the resources to implement an effective Lync solution; or,

v. Lync is not the best fit for the organization. To conclude this requires that the organization has done the work to evaluate the multiple options available. Truthfully, in my experience, most organizations have not done this. Instead, very unfortunately, many IT managers form very strong beliefs based on rumor and innuendo.

e. "Some enterprises express concern that Microsoft's bundling, combined with proprietary protocols, will leave them locked in a closed circle of choices and few non-Microsoft options in the future."

This is another "feeling-based" caution from Gartner. You should ask yourself if this "concern" is relevant to your organization. I do not believe any of the UC solutions are more open than others. All the UC vendors claim to support open standards and yet all of the vendors would prefer you adopt their standards. See "Market Dominance as a Path to Interoperability".

I am hoping the few examples above help you to be a discerning reader while you digest the information provided in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for UC. The Gartner report provides valuable guidance and offers many relevant comments; however, you need to consider the comments and ratings in the context of your specific organizational objectives and requirements.

I found one of the best summary paragraphs buried within the "Market Overview" section of the report...

"Cisco and Microsoft maintained their strong leads. Both these vendors have large installed bases into which they can sell UC functionality; Cisco leverages its position in network infrastructure, while Microsoft leverages its email and Office suite base. These two vendors compete fiercely in the market and both made significant advances during the past year. Cisco advanced client capabilities based on the Jabber client, including video, and now offers fully capable mobile client options. Cisco also continued aggressive marketing and sales programs. Microsoft advanced Lync's capabilities, including stronger mobile support and the integration of Lync with Skype in the Lync 2013 release. Microsoft's relative positioning was hurt this year by their slow progress in addressing enterprise telephony requirements, or at least in defining pragmatic telephony advice."

I'm not sure what "pragmatic telephony advice" Microsoft was expected to define, but at least this attempts to explain the quarter of an inch between the two dots.

Do you agree or disagree with Gartner's ratings? What do you think about my comments? Is the "devil in the details?" Share your opinions in the comments below or via twitter @kkieller. I will respond to each and every comment.

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