Where's the magic? Cisco's true strength in Unified Communications

1 December 2015

I'm all for a bit of insight, that distilled essence of great research. After all the data gathering, fact finding and analysis, comes the insight that tells you more about your clients or potential customers, the opportunities or challenges you face, or the wider landscape in which you do business.

For our industry, Gartner's Magic Quadrant reports cast a handy spotlight over how the various tech giants stack up, assessed on several important criteria. A lot of work goes into establishing whether companies like NEC, Huawei and Cisco rank as niche players, visionaries, challengers or leaders in each sector of the market, and the reasoning makes interesting reading.

That's definitely the case with the most recent Magic Quadrant on Unified Communications (UC), which in most ways looks pretty accurate. Outside of the niche players, NEC and ALE certainly have the ability to challenge, while the leaders sector looks like it contains the right names.


Source: Gartner Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications


Where I'd quibble is on Gartner's relative ranking of Microsoft and Cisco on their ability to execute in UC, bearing in mind that we're talking about the full suite of enterprise productivity, communication and collaboration solutions. The caution section for Microsoft notes: "Enterprises deploying Skype for Business with in-house staff find that multiple partners are required to obtain a complete deployment."

That's one way to put it, but I prefer the way one of our experts summed it up: "Like a big zoo with loads of animals and you have to treat differently every single one."

One of the other Microsoft cautions begins: "Enterprises regularly report dissatisfaction with the quality and capabilities of the audioconferencing and videoconferencing functionalities...". For me, that's a fundamental issue, and it's an area where Cisco is leagues ahead. Gartner seems to agree, citing Cisco's "globally scalable, full UC suite, with good-quality user experience across all leading mobile devices, and strong telephony and market-leading conferencing capabilities" as a key strength.

I rate scalable, quality solutions as at the core of 'Ability to execute' for UC, so ranking Microsoft slightly higher here makes me scratch my head.

The power of partnership

Nobody's perfect, though, and I wanted to look quickly at a couple of cautions the MQ raises for Cisco, firstly that some user and admin experiences are fragmented across the product portfolio. That's definitely been the case at times, with Cisco perhaps having focused on features and integration at the expense of the user and administrative experience, but under head of collaboration Rowan Trollope there's been a new focus on providing a UX model that integrates as well as the products themselves. We're definitely seeing improvements here all the time, with more and more UC products coming into Prime Collaboration - I'd be surprised if we see this caution repeated in the next MQ.

With its second caution about Cisco's Unified Workspace Licensing, Gartner's actually highlighting a strong package that, as the report says, "offers attractive pricing". The challenge it has identified is in accurately sizing requirements, which is exactly where a Cisco Partner such as Ideal brings real value. We've gained new customers with existing Cisco licences who haven't fully understood what they had and how it relates to what they need. Through audits, we can identify the features a client requires, how many users and devices they have, and weigh them up against other factors to design a bespoke solution with a cost-effective licensing package.

Finally I wanted to offer a few thoughts on why I'd rate Cisco as the clear enterprise UC leader. For a start, it's been there or thereabouts for perhaps 15 years, so there's a proven ability to serve people's current requirements. Equally important, it's historically always had a clear vision of where things are going, and a proven ability to develop - or acquire - products to support and enable the change.


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