How Long Can Unified Communications Be the Technology of the Future?

Gartner’s influential Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications was released late last week. The graphic in the press release places 14 companies in four categories (challengers, leaders, niche players and visionaries) and positions them within those sectors according to the completeness of their vision and their ability to execute.

The top spot – actually the top right spot, indicating leader’s status with the highest ability to execute and most complete vision – belongs to Microsoft. Cisco and Avaya follow in that quadrant. NEC and IBM are the top challengers, ShoreTel the top niche player and Siemens Enterprise Communications the highest rated visionary.

That chart, of course, is what most people will rush to look at and what will get the most notoriety. However, the commentary in the release, which is a bit sobering, seems as important. The reason is that the drawbacks and obstacles to UC that are highlighted are about the same as what could be heard last year, the year before that and so on. Here are three quotes from the release:

Although there is significant interest in UC from many enterprises, it remains a daunting and confusing topic. As a result, many enterprises find it difficult knowing where and how to start.


Despite the emergence of complete UC portfolios, these are still in an early stage, and no vendor product adequately addresses all of an enterprise’s UC needs.


The term “unified communications” sometimes is misused. This results in confusion. Users should be aware that some products that are labeled as “unified” cannot be integrated with other vendor products into a full portfolio. These mislabeled products are capable of being used only in a stand-alone and nonintegrated manner.

The bottom line, Gartner seems to be implying, is that UC hasn’t made a whole lot of progress.

There seems to be some hope, however. According to No Jitter Publisher Fred Knight, the general acceptance of the term unified communications as the collective set of tools and platforms aimed at extending personal and business communications is progress. In a column publicizing the Business Communications and Collaboration Strategies Summit in October, he points out that technology is changing at an unprecedented rate and that, once the economy rebounds, UC vendors – the very companies that Gartner passed judgment on – will be in good position.

But there are signs of progress everywhere. Unified Communications has become the umbrella term for using communications and collaboration tools to improve personal productivity and to embrace new possibilities for business processes and work flow. The widespread agreement about the benefits that UC can deliver means that as the economy begins to expand, the sales of UC equipment, software and services should begin to rise dramatically.

Unified communications always has had an image problem. It is not a new technology or set of technologies. Instead, it is a new wrapping around an existing set of technologies. It is time for IT and telecommunications departments to get their arms around this. Gartner, at least, seems to think that this has not yet happened.

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