Fewer Vendors Sit Atop the UC Magic Quadrant

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The number of frontrunners in Gartner’s latest assessment of the unified communications (UC) landscape has gotten smaller. While Alcatel-Lucent, Microsoft, and Nortel are once againn earmarked as leaders in the research firm’s Magic Quadrant for the sector, Cisco Systems and Siemens—leaders in last year’s report—have slipped to the quadrants for challengers and visionaries, respectively.

The UC sector, according to report author and Gartner research vice president Bern Elliot, comprises the equipment, software, and services that enhance productivity by enabling and facilitating the control, management, integration, and use of multiple enterprise communication methods.

In naming Microsoft to its leader board, Gartner noted that the company not only has a strong and complete solution set on its own, but also has strategic partnerships in areas like live voice, IP, and PBX; an established base of desktop applications; and experience in graphical user interface design. Elliot called it "an ecosystem of partners that can deliver value-added products, professional services, and wide distribution."

One of those partners is Nortel, with which the software giant forged the Nortel/Microsoft Innovative Communications Alliance to cross-license intellectual property, collaborate on product development, market joint solutions, craft a training and incentive program for sales teams, and build a joint channel ecosystem.

While the report states that the partnership delivers tight integration among complementary parts of the companies’ respective offerings, Gartner warns that the alliance might cloud each vendor’s parameters. "The initiative also creates a mutual dependency, which at some point may be difficult [or expensive] to separate, should this become necessary," Elliot wrote.

Nortel, which Gartner labeled the strongest among the three leaders in completeness of vision, has a comprehensive UC portfolio built around the MCS 5100 and Communications Server 1000, and has proved its ability to work as part of an integrated third-party environment, including Microsoft Live Communications Server and Office Communications Server environments, according to the report.

Gartner credits another repeat leader, Alcatel-Lucent, with having "a pragmatic strategy" to leverage its enterprise products, particularly OmniPCX and Omni-Touch Unified Communication, with its carrier and enterprise base. It did, however, caution that Alcatel-Lucent, a French firm,  has a small presence in North America and that technical and organizational challenges linger from the 2006 merger of Alcatel and Lucent to form one company.

Meanwhile, Cisco slid into the challengers’ quadrant, losing a step in Gartner’s assessment of the completeness of its vision. The vendor was lauded for its strong overall product portfolio and channel program, but the report adds that Cisco’s offerings are "network-centric, rather than software-application-focused." This, Elliot writes, "can create interdependencies between the network infrastructure and communication applications operating on the network, making it harder to integrate communications with business applications."

Joining Cisco in the quadrant are repeat challengers IBM and Avaya.

AVST, Ericsson, and NEC retain their positions as niche players, joined this year by Adomo, which was absent from last year’s Magic Quadrant, and Mitel, which fell from its 2006 status as a challenger.

Despite the best rating among all 16 companies in "completeness of vision," Siemens dropped from leader to visionary after losing points in Gartner’s view of its ability to execute. The report highlights the maturity and robustness of the vendor’s OpenScape and HiPath 8000 IPPBX offerings, its integration with Microsoft OCS 2007, and its partnerships with vertical application providers. But the report also warns that the "lack of clarity regarding the parent corporation’s plans for this communication subsidiary slows acceptance of its products."

Other vendors in the visionaries quadrant include repeat performers Oracle and TeleWare; Interwise, which was absent from last year’s Magic Quadrant; and Interactive Intelligence, the only returning vendor to upgrade its standing from niche player to visionary.

"The UC market and its technologies are maturing, but overall the market remains at an early stage of maturity, and the adoption of converged solutions remains slow," Elliot wrote.

The report underscores several market conditions that are stifling adoption, including a lack of both industry best practices and an understanding of the technology’s capabilities. "Gartner expects many barriers to slowly be resolved and that, in 2008, UC will enter early mainstream adoption globally. UC offers multiple capabilities and is useful in different ways, depending on the function and users supported," the report states.

Functionalities currently available include Internet telephony, presence, email, conferencing, voicemail, and unified messaging. Elliot expects more products, including general-purpose communicator clients, rich-presence services, intelligent assistants for improved routing, and notification services, to emerge as the UC market matures. He also expects the technology to expand in contact center, mobility, business process integration, and collaboration.

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