There is a convergence happening in the enterprise UC market today. I predict that this will further accelerate the consolidation we already see happening in the space. So, let me start by explaining what I mean by ‘convergence’ in this context. The image above is a mental map I use when looking at vendors in the UC space.
There are four different quadrants in the chart above. Each of them has historically been its own market, often with dedicated vendors focused in that area. In the PBX/voice quadrant you have vendors like Cisco and Avaya. In the contact center quadrant you have specialized folks like Genesys. In the video/collaboration quadrant you have vendors like Cisco/WebEx and GoToMeeting. And in the messaging quadrant you have newer entrants such as Slack and Atlassian/HipChat.
The line between these different areas is starting to blur, and vendors from each of the quadrants are starting to add features from remote quadrants. You have vendors coming from mostly a PBX/voice background adding video/collaboration and messaging features. At the same time you have vendors with video/collaboration and messaging features (e.g. Microsoft/Skype for Business) that are adding PBX/voice features. It is my belief that vendors will ultimately have to be good at all four of these areas in order to have a complete UC platform. It is further my belief that to stay standalone in any of these areas will become increasingly difficult over time, as vendors that combine these functions into one platform will be able to offer superior end user experiences.
You might be asking yourself if covering all this ground is really necessary. Wouldn’t it make sense to focus on just PBX/voice, for example, and be really good at that?
Here are some reasons why I don’t think that would be a viable strategy.
I’ve written previously about the dominant market forces at work on the UC space. Consumer tech is already driving a merger of voice, video and messaging. Look at Facebook, which includes voice, video and messaging directly integrated into their platform. As another example, WhatsApp started as a messaging app but since added a voice component, with video on the way. These trends on the consumer side will continue to drive end user expectations. And these end consumers are the same users who come to work in the enterprise—and who will ultimately drive enterprise requirements.
But why does this convergence in the consumer space necessarily mean that it will happen in the enterprise? After all, there is a long history of standalone enterprise vendors that are really good at these particular things.
The answer has to do with the user experience (UX). Consumer tech companies are really good at UX, but enterprise vendors are typically much worse at UX. The point that the consumer guys have understood is that when end users are communicating, you need to give them access to all the different modes of communication inside your app and within your platform. This prevents users from switching back and forth between different apps, losing time and context every time they switch. Consumer vendors are always looking for ways to increase user engagement and avoid anything that makes users leave their app. When you have separate voice, video/collaboration and messaging apps, there is a lot of jumping around needed, resulting in wasted time and lost productivity. In these cases, the user needs to figure out in advance which app to use for a given interaction vs. having a menu of different modes of communication presented to them for any given interaction. Focusing on providing the best possible UX naturally leads down a converged UC path that breaks down the boundaries in the map above.
The vendors that will win in the enterprise UC space are ones who can cover all of the areas above with a great user experience. And the good news for enterprise UC vendors is that by combining all of these functions on one platform, and displacing what are typically multiple point tools, there is a huge opportunity to simplify the management and the operational IT communication costs for enterprise CIOs.