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Lessons to be Learned

My new No Jitter feature article that summarizes and analyzes the 2008 TEQConsult Group Consultant Survey offers some valuable lessons to the enterprise communications system suppliers, if they are able to rationally interpret the survey results and not take umbrage at grades lower than they believe they deserve. In several instances a system supplier's grade did not strongly correlate with the facts, i.e. a product or application solution grade did not accurately reflect capabilities and performance level. This is a case of perception trumping reality, with perception heavily determined by marketing communications efforts.The best example of the perception/reality conundrum is to examine the consultant grades for Alcatel-Lucent and ShoreTel. Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise is the leading system supplier in the EMEA market and has annual global revenues of about $2 billion. Its product portfolio is very strong: the flagship IP telephony system offering, OmniPCX Enterprise, has few significant design or feature weaknesses and its Unified Communications capabilities place it in the vaunted Leader sector of the Gartner Magic Quadrant. Alcatel-Lucent's current IP telephone instrument portfolio is beginning to age, but it is more than adequate for almost any customer. Yet in my survey, the typical grade Alcatel-Lucent received for its overall portfolio, IP telephony system, UC, and telephone instruments was Fair, with several grades of Weak.

Not to denigrate ShoreTel's product capabilities, but in each of the above categories it received a better overall grade than Alcatel-Lucent, although a critical evaluation of the two system suppliers' offerings would favor the French organization. How did ShoreTel, a company the fraction the size of Alcatel-Lucent in terms of revenues, assets, global market share and installed base, receive superior grades? One word: Marketing. ShoreTel's year-old consultant support program has done a very good job getting the word out to the consultants about the company's product offerings and capabilities, and it was supported by other strong corporate marketing activities. Alcatel-Lucent's, in comparison, has paled. It was difficult to ascertain any details about the recent OmniPCX Enterprise update announcement from the materials that were distributed, unless a private briefing session was held.

Another consultant survey anomaly is the stronger overall grade Cisco received for its IP telephony system offering as compared to Nortel. Cisco's Unified Communications Manager solution has come a long way during the past few years, but in my opinion the Nortel CS 1000E is still a stronger product based on overall architecture design and feature capabilities. The Cisco solution is definitely weaker based on distributed networking options and generic software features. Superior recent marketing efforts is the likely reason Cisco received much better grades than Nortel, especially when the preceding two surveys had Nortel receiving the better grades: Neither product significantly changed during the past year to justify a reversal of grades. Nortel once had a very strong marketing team, but declining resources (personnel and finances) have taken a toll. In contrast, Cisco's marketing machine is admired throughout the industry for the way it has been able to minimize or cloak product weaknesses while promoting its strengths.

It should also be pointed out that Cisco's product grade was also much higher than Alcatel-Lucent received, although a strong case can be made that the OmniPCX Enterprise is the better IP telephony system, but when it comes to marketing, the two system suppliers are playing in different leagues: Cisco's in the Majors, and Alcatel-Lucent sometimes appears to be in the Little League. Siemens and NEC also received lower grades than Cisco, but both system suppliers introduced new product design platforms this past year and the consultants are probably still in "get acquainted" mode until they are more comfortable with the offerings. Both system suppliers need to quickly rev up marketing efforts to support their respective new IP telephony systems if they want to compete more effectively against Cisco for the hearts and minds of the consultants.

ShoreTel, with minimal resources at their disposal, markets efficiently; Cisco, with vast resources at their disposal, also markets efficiently, but on a much larger scale. Both have learned to play the perception versus reality game.