Unified Communications: Through the Magic (Quadrant) Glass

by Dave Michels

The Magic Quadrant, put forth by Gartner, is a graphical representation of the competitive landscape in a given industry or sector. The X axis measures a vendor’s “Completeness of Vision.” The more to the right, the more complete the vision. The Y axis measures a vendor’s “Ability to Execute,” the higher the better the ability. A complete vision with a strong ability to execute places a vendor in the “Magic Quadrant” or the upper right quadrant.

Gartner has used the Magic Quadrant for decades – it is a simple way to communicate complex thoughts behind vendor positioning.

But I found two recent reports somewhat contradictory and confusing. The reports in question are “Magic Quadrant for Corporate Telephony” August 5, 2009 and “Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications” September 1, 2009.

The Corporate Telephony Report opens with “The corporate telephony market is under increasing pressure – from new entrants in unified communications…Organizations still need an IP telephony road map today, but it should become a component of a UC strategy.”

This suggests several very important conclusions/thoughts:

  1. Corporate Telephony is a subcomponent of Unified Communications
  2. Corporate Telephony is VoIP
  3. Corporate Telephony is in competition with Unified Communications
  4. Unified Communications is a strategy not a product
  5. IP telephony “should” (not “can”) become part of a UC strategy

The following vendors were included in the corporate telephony report: 3Com, Aastra, Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, Cisco, Digium, Microsoft, NEC, Nortel, Siemens Enterprise Group, ShoreTel, and Toshiba.

The Unified Communications Report opens with “Unified Communications offers the ability to improve how individuals, groups, and companies interact and perform tasks…Key technologies include (IP)-PBX, VoIP, presence, E-mail, audio/web conferencing, videoconferencing, voice mail, unified messaging, instant messaging, and various forms of mobility. Another key capability of UC is…’communication-enabled business process’ (CEBP)…No vendor product adequately addresses all of an enterprise’s UC needs. As a result, planners should not expect their UC requirements to be met by one vendor’s products.”

This suggests the following important conclusions/thoughts:

  1. A large chunk of UC is voice related and offered by most of the IP-PBX makers (IP-PBX, VoIP, presence, audio/web conferencing, videoconferencing, voice mail, unified messaging, instant messaging, and various forms of mobility)
  2. CEBP requires APIs or customization capabilities
  3. A complete vision is not equal to a complete product offering – thus partnerships and standards are presumably important
  4. UC includes but does not require multiple technologies. Thus a stand alone PBX with voice mail could qualify as a UC solution so long as it improves interaction.

The following vendors were included in the UC report: Aastra Technologies, Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, Cisco, IBM, Interactive Intelligence, Microsoft, Mitel, NEC, Nortel, SAP, Siemens Enterprise Group, ShoreTel, TeleWare, and Toshiba.


Earlier this month, Gartner updated its annual list of top technologies for 2010 and completely dropped UC.

I don’t believe UC technologies are any more out of style than they were last year. In fact, with some major wins and repositioning by various market leaders the opposite is true. So why would Gartner drop it?

My suspicion is because the UC and corporate telephony markets (quadrants) are merging and because the terminology is so broadly defined. Look at the new list and it is filled with UC:

  • Cloud computing (there is a major shift beginning toward call processing and voice application virtualization)
  • Client computing (phones, soft phones, headsets, SIP devices, etc.)
  • Reshaping the data center (consolidation and centralization of voice systems)
  • Social computing (integration of voice with services such as Twitter)
  • Virtualization for availability (voice recovery, using the cloud for overflow capacity)
  • Mobility (teleworking, DECT and Wifi phones, FMC, cell phone integration).

Unfortunately, “UC” has become a bit meaningless. Cisco also dropped the UC moniker in exchange for “collaboration”. But this doesn’t really help either as collaboration either only addresses part of the UC equation – or is stretched to become equally broad and confusing (is unified messaging now a collaboration solution?).

The right answer is to put it back to the voice folks as they are surprisingly in agreement about the future. The UC vision from Cisco, Avaya, Mitel and others are not that incongruous. Even smaller players have similar views, but need to rely more on partnerships (which really makes the most sense).

UC solutions are critical, but without a firm agreement or understanding of its scope or meaning it doesn’t promote improved communications. The concept is right and isn’t going anywhere soon. The problem is we already all have phone systems, and don’t need new ones. What is selling is improved communication methods and that involves more tools and capabilities which just might happen to require a new phone system.