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Gartner Magic Quadrant for UC 2015: Maturity With Conflation

Gartner's new Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications (UCMQ) is out, with some very good analysis and advice from analyst Bern Elliot and researcher Steve Blood. As a co-author of the UCMQ every year since the first version in 2003, Bern in particular has an excellent perspective on the evolution of this market category and vendors.

As you may know, all Gartner Magic Quadrants rank qualifying vendors on two scales: ability to execute and completeness of vision. Vendors that exceed the midpoint in both categories are categorized in the coveted Leaders quadrant. In the UCMQ, Gartner clearly states the criteria for inclusion and the factors on which it has rated the vendors. From my view, Gartner Magic Quadrant reports describe technology solution market segments and position vendors within those segments; the Magic Quadrants are not feature-level evaluations for use in place of a requirements-based request for proposals (RFP).

The core message of this year's UCMQ is maturity, made clear in the opening headline: "Gartner considers the large enterprise UC market to be mature, though product capabilities, market focus and vendor strengths vary. As a result, enterprises should carefully match their own priorities to vendor strengths before committing to a solution." Let's set the stage, then come back to the implications.

Gartner did not add or drop any vendors from the UCMQ this year. In fact, the only significant change was that Unify and ShoreTel swapped places. Unify declined in "completeness of vision," moving from Visionaries to Niche Players; ShoreTel moved the other way from Niche Players to Visionaries. Microsoft and Cisco continued to circle around each other at the top of the Leaders quadrant. Here are the current standings (in order of "ability to execute"):

This year's report brings out some pretty important factors:

Understand your requirements - The difference between vendors' products and features is getting smaller and smaller. We reported on this back in 2013, which was the last year in which a separate UC RFP session was justified at Enterprise Connect. The feature sets of all the participating vendors had become very similar, with evaluation scores in a +/- 10% range. Thus, an optimal UC vendor or product selection will require clear understanding of requirements so vendors can match the professional service and integrations to your specific enterprise needs.

Serious conflation with IP telephony - Conflation means, "...two or more... concepts... seem to be a single identity -- the differences appear to become lost." It has become hard to tell the difference between the UCMQ and the Magic Quadrant for Corporate Telephony for two reasons:

Thus, the positioning of UC and corporate telephony are essentially conflated -- no distinction between them. The exceptions are Microsoft and IBM, both of which see UC as an application, rather than a marketing program to sell more IP telephony and desk phones.

It won't be surprising to me if this were the last year in which the two Gartner MQs will be published separately.

The UC opportunity is still there, if you know where to look - A hidden message in the 2015 UCMQ is that UC is not about telephony any more. While inclusion in the UCMQ still requires "a significant market presence in telephony," you can see both from the report and from the market that the big money is still in the business processes and associated labor.

As we have emphasized at Enterprise Connect and its predecessor, VoiceCon, since 2006, UC is about "communications integrated to optimize business processes." It is easy to get focused on reducing the cost of ownership of the telephony system from $200 per user per year down to, say, $150 per user per year, when the average user payroll may be $40,000 per year and the average company revenue per employee is well over $100,000 per year (as I've written previously). The industry figured this out for call/contact centers in the 1990s and has made a lot of money for both the enterprise and the contact center vendors. The big opportunity is to do this again with UC in other enterprise workflows (see white paper here).

These factors are almost certainly one of the reasons that Gartner says, "The stakes for vendors in the enterprise UC market are exceedingly high and, in some cases, existential." Those that can find the ways to empower their channels to provide really differentiating professional services and application integration/customization in both horizontal and vertical markets have huge opportunities to capture value and growth. Those who ignore those trends will be sharing revenues of a continually shrinking enterprise voice telephony market space.

We wish success for all of the UCMQ vendors; they must navigate successfully to deliver new and compelling value to their prospects if they wish to grow the UC industry and their shares of that market space. We wish all vendors well in their quests, as their successes will certainly benefit their customers and, thus, society in general. Good luck, all.

(You can find complimentary copies of the UCMQ from some vendors, including Microsoft, Cisco, and Mitel.)