Tag Archives: unified

Gartner UC Magic Quadrant ranking belies Avaya’s challenges

Avaya has regained its position as a market leader in Gartner’s annual rankings of unified communications vendors, after being dropped from the list amid bankruptcy last year. But the vendor will likely struggle to keep pace with Microsoft and Cisco in the years ahead, analysts said.

Avaya’s return to the leadership quadrant in the 2018 Gartner UC Magic Quadrant report is a positive development for the company as it tries to reassure customers that new leadership and a cloud-first strategy will lead to long-term financial stability.

But IT buyers should be careful not to read too much into Avaya’s latest Gartner ranking. The vendor lost its leadership spot because it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 2017 — and it regained the honor this year mostly because those proceedings are now finished, according to a co-author of the Gartner UC Magic Quadrant. 

“Overall, they are looking in better shape financially,” said Steve Blood, analyst at Gartner. “What they can’t shake off yet, though, is that they did have years of underinvestment in product.”

Avaya has gotten more aggressive in building out its cloud portfolio and investing in AI technologies over the past year, acquiring the cloud contact center vendor Spoken Communications and launching a partner program for AI developers. The vendor is “moving in the right direction,” Blood said.

But Avaya still has work to do to convince businesses of the value of its relatively new cloud products, such as Avaya Equinox and Avaya Oceana, Blood said. Meanwhile, Microsoft and Cisco have continued to expand upon a “huge” product and execution advantage over Avaya and Mitel, the other top-ranked vendor in the Gartner UC Magic Quadrant.

Avaya looks to move past bankruptcy, achieve growth

Some channel partners that had previously sold only Avaya products decided to pursue partnerships with competing vendors amid the financial uncertainty in 2017 — a weakness highlighted in the Gartner UC Magic Quadrant.

For the most part, however, Avaya’s sizable customer base seems comfortable with the company’s position right now, a testament in part to how transparent Avaya was with them during the bankruptcy proceedings, said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research in Westminster, Mass.

“Now they are in a position where they are OK financially at this current revenue level and this current debt load,” Kerravala said. “From a customer perspective, these next two, three, four quarters are very important to see if the company is actually growing.”

Avaya does have a strong portfolio of public and private cloud products, Kerravala said. The company’s challenge now will be changing its public perception as a legacy on-premises vendor.

Avaya likely has more opportunity for growth in the contact center market — where its products stack up well against main rivals Genesys and Cisco — than in the UC market, which is becoming dominated increasingly by Microsoft and Cisco, said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill.

“I think they have got a challenge in terms of where they have opportunities to grow at this point,” Lazar said. “I don’t see them taking market share from Microsoft and Cisco.”

Spoken acquisition the highlight of Avaya Engage 2018

Avaya took a big step toward building a competitive cloud-based unified communications portfolio with the acquisition of contact-center-as-a-service provider Spoken Communications.

Avaya announced the all-cash deal this week at the Avaya Engage 2018 user conference — the first since Avaya exited bankruptcy late last year. The company also launched at the show a desktop phone series, an all-in-one huddle-room video conferencing system and cloud-based customer support software, called Ava.

Avaya plans to offer Spoken services as an option for customers who want to move to the cloud slowly. Companies using Avaya on-premises software can swap out call-center features one at a time and replace them with the Spoken cloud version.

“With the acquisition of Spoken, it’s clear that Avaya is putting more of an emphasis on building out its own hosted offerings that it can either sell direct or through channels,” said Irwin Lazar, an analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill.

Avaya’s cloud strategy

The current executive team is determined to shift Avaya’s focus to the cloud in terms of both technology development and business model.
Elka Popovaanalyst at Frost & Sullivan

Only a small percentage of Avaya’s customers use its cloud-based services, which lag behind those of rivals Cisco and Microsoft. Nevertheless, the market for contact center and UC as a service is growing much faster than on-premises software, analysts said.

“The current executive team is determined to shift Avaya’s focus to the cloud in terms of both technology development and business model,” said Elka Popova, an analyst at consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, based in San Antonio. “The team acknowledges they are a bit late to the game, and most of their cloud portfolio is a work in progress, but the determination is there.”

Since last year, Avaya has worked with Spoken on bringing contact center as a service (CCaaS) to Avaya customers through product integrations. The joint effort has led to integration between Spoken’s cloud-based services and Avaya’s on-premises Call Center Elite and Aura Communication Manager. The latter is Avaya’s UC platform.

Spoken uses speech recognition in its CCaaS offering to automate call-center processes and make customer service agents more efficient. For example, Spoken can transcribe conversations agents have with each customer, which frees customer reps from having to type notes into the system manually.

Spoken technology can also listen for keywords. If it hears the word invoice, for example, it can retrieve the customer’s bill automatically for the agent.

Spoken has more than 170 patents and patent applications that will go to Avaya, which expects to close the transaction by the end of March. The company did not release financial details.

Other Avaya Engage 2018 announcements

In other Avaya Engage 2018 news, the vendor introduced a cloud-based messaging platform for reaching customers on social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, WeChat and Line. Avaya’s Ava can provide immediate self-service support or send customers to an agent. If the latter occurs, then all information gathered during the automated service is handed to the service rep.

Ava supports 34 languages and has APIs Avaya partners can use for product integration. Last year, Avaya launched an initiative called A.I.Connect to encourage other vendors to connect products with artificial intelligence or machine learning capabilities with Avaya communication software.

Despite its cloud focus, Avaya is still paying attention to hardware. The company announced at Engage the J series line of desktop phones. The three phones come with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. Avaya plans to release the hardware in the second quarter.

Also, the company introduced a second Vantage touchscreen phone. Unlike the first one unveiled last year, the latest hardware comes with the option of a traditional keyboard. It also supports Avaya IP Office, which provides a combination of cloud-based and on-premises UC services.

Finally, Avaya launched the CU-360 all-in-one video conferencing system for huddle rooms, which small teams of corporate workers use for meetings. The hardware can connect to mobile devices for content sharing.

Overall, the Avaya Engage 2018 conference reflected positively on the executive team chosen by Avaya CEO Jim Chirico, analysts said. Formerly Avaya’s COO, Chirico replaced former CEO Kevin Kennedy, who retired Oct. 1.

“Overall, the event did not produce a wow effect,” Popova said. “There was nothing spectacular, but the spirits were high, and the partner and customer sentiments were mostly positive.”

Cloud, mobility, telephony to fuel UCC market growth, report says

The global unified communications and collaboration market is expected to see sizable growth over the next several years, fueled by cloud technologies, telephony platforms and mobile devices. The UCC market is expected to grow more than 9% annually from 2017 to 2024, according to a report from Global Market Insights Inc., a research firm based in Selbyville, Del. 

In 2016, the UCC market was estimated at more than $27 billion. The market is predicted to surpass $57 billion by 2024, according to the report.

Growing cloud systems are expected to boost UCC market growth in the coming years. The cloud-based UCC market should see favorable gains between 2017 and 2024 across various business sectors. Hybrid models, in particular, should see increased adoption, as enterprises meld on-premises and cloud services.

Telephony platforms are expected to hold a significant UCC market share of more than 25% by 2024, as enterprises deploy these applications on a large scale to enable real-time communications. Additionally, IP phones will grab a larger share of the telephony market, as they offer added benefits over analog phones and cost less than traditional telephone services, the report said.

The popularity of mobile devices and increased acceptance of BYOD across businesses on a global scale should also boost UCC market growth. UCC technology uses BYOD policies to enable communication with mobile resources. BYOD workplaces can also help companies cut hardware and service costs.

Among UCC vendors, acquisitions continue to play a key role in the consolidation of the market, as major players strive to extend their global presence and gain more market share.

Wrinkl group messaging platform launches

The business messaging market just got a little more crowded. Wrinkl, a cloud-based group messaging platform, launched last week. The collaboration software looks to address certain deficiencies of email and group chat.

By combining the immediacy of group messaging with email capabilities, Wrinkl aims to reduce the number of fragmented communications that occur across multiple applications. Users can keep conversations in one place, creating a system of record.

Wrinkl is accessible via desktop and available for download in Google Play and Apple’s App Store. The group messaging platform’s features include the following:

  • One-to-one sidebars offer private communication within larger group conversations.
  • Email integration allows users to send and receive emails within a Wrinkl channel. Responses are private to the recipient, even in group channels, but can be shared with the group.
  • Users can add messages to lists, which could include to-do lists or other items to track.
  • Surveys can be created without leaving a conversation and include people outside the group. Responses are grouped together as they come in. Results are rendered with graphs and visualizations for further analysis.

Plantronics releases UC-compatible headset

Plantronics Inc., an audio communications provider based in Santa Cruz, Calif., introduced this week a Bluetooth neckband headset with earbuds. The Voyager 6200 UC features active-noise cancellation and integration with UC applications.

The headset expands Plantronics’ Voyager series of enterprise headsets and its portfolio of stereo Bluetooth devices. The headset is certified for Microsoft Skype for Business, and it’s compatible with Cisco Jabber, Microsoft Teams and several other software apps.

Plantronics headset
The Plantronics Voyager 6200 UC headset features a neckband that vibrates to indicate an incoming call or alert.

Among other features, the Voyager 6200 UC provides a wireless range up to 98 feet and up to nine hours of talk time and 16 hours of listen time. In addition, the neckband vibrates to indicate an incoming call or alert, and users can pair up to eight devices and connect to two devices simultaneously.

The Voyager 6200 UC is supported by Plantronics Manager Pro, which allows IT managers to monitor and maintain devices companywide, including usage and acoustic analysis. With Manager Pro, IT can configure the user experience and use predictive analytics to detect compatibility issues. Manager Pro is available as a subscription service, sold separately from the Voyager portfolio.

The Voyager 6200 UC is available in black and sand colors through Plantronics authorized partners. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price is $299.95.

Midmarket enterprises push UCaaS platform adoption

Cloud unified communications adoption is growing among midmarket enterprises as they look to improve employee communication, productivity and collaboration. Cloud offerings, too, are evolving to meet midmarket enterprise needs, according to a Gartner Inc. report on North American midmarket unified communications as a service (UCaaS).

Gartner, a market research firm based in Stamford, Conn., defines the midmarket as enterprises with 100 to 999 employees and revenue between $50 million and $1 billion. UCaaS spending in the midmarket segment reached nearly $1.5 billion in 2017 and is expected to hit almost $3 billion by 2021, according to the report. Midmarket UCaaS providers include vendors ranked in Gartner’s UCaaS Magic Quadrant report. The latest Gartner UCaaS midmarket report, however, examined North American-focused providers not ranked in the larger Magic Quadrant report, such as CenturyLink, Jive and Vonage.

But before deploying a UCaaS platform, midmarket IT decision-makers must evaluate the broader business requirements that go beyond communication and collaboration.

Evaluating the cost of a UCaaS platform

The most significant challenge facing midmarket IT planners over the next 12 months is budget constraints, according to the report. These constraints play a major role in midmarket UC decisions, said Megan Fernandez, Gartner analyst and co-author of the report.

“While UCaaS solutions are not always less expensive than premises-based solutions, the ability to acquire elastic services with straightforward costs is useful for many midsize enterprises,” she said.

Many midmarket enterprises are looking to acquire UCaaS functions as a bundled service rather than stand-alone functions, according to the report. Bundles can be more cost-effective as prices are based on a set of features rather than a single UC application. Other enterprises will acquire UCaaS through a freemium model, which offers basic voice and conferencing functionality.

“We tend to see freemium services coming into play when organizations are trying new services,” she said. “Users might access the service and determine if the freemium capabilities will suffice for their business needs.”

For some enterprises, this basic functionality will meet business requirements and offer cost savings. But other enterprises will upgrade to a paid UCaaS platform after using the freemium model to test services.

Cloud adoption
Enterprises are putting more emphasis on cloud communications services.

Addressing multiple network options

Midmarket enterprises have a variety of network configurations depending on the number of sites and access to fiber. As a result, UCaaS providers offer multiple WAN strategies to connect to enterprises. Midmarket IT planners should ensure UCaaS providers align with their companies’ preferred networking approach, Fernandez said.

Enterprises looking to keep network costs down may connect to a UCaaS platform via DSL or cable modem broadband. Enterprises with stricter voice quality requirements may pay more for an IP MPLS connection, according to the report. Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) is also a growing trend for communications infrastructure. 

“We expect SD-WAN to be utilized in segments with requirements for high QoS,” Fernandez said. “We tend to see more requirements for high performance in certain industries like healthcare and financial services.”

Team collaboration’s influence and user preferences

Team collaboration, also referred to as workstream collaboration, offers similar capabilities as UCaaS platforms, such as voice, video and messaging, but its growing popularity won’t affect how enterprises buy UCaaS, yet.

Fernandez said team collaboration is not a primary factor influencing UCaaS buying decisions as team collaboration is still acquired at the departmental or team level. But buying decisions could shift as the benefits of team-oriented management become more widely understood, she said.

“This means we’ll increasingly see more overlap in the UCaaS and workstream collaboration solution decisions in the future,” Fernandez said.

Intuitive user interfaces have also become an important factor in the UCaaS selection process as ease of use will affect user adoption of a UCaaS platform. According to the report, providers are addressing ease of use demands by trying to improve access to features, embedding AI functionality and enhancing interoperability among UC services.

Emerging technologies to fuel collaboration industry growth

The future of any industry is not always certain, and it can be difficult to predict. However, some trends in the unified communications and collaboration industry indicate 2018 will be a strong year of growth.

Over the next two years, 80% of companies intend to adopt UCC tools, according to a survey published by market research firm Ovum. More importantly, 78% of the 1,300 global companies surveyed have already set aside budgets to adopt UCC tools — that’s a promising sign.

But what exactly will that growth in the unified communications and collaboration industry look like? What existing trends will continue? And what new trends will emerge?

The continued rise of APIs in the collaboration industry

As more companies emphasize streamlining their workflows, more IT departments will embed communication APIs into their existing applications. Integrating communication APIs is faster, easier and cheaper than a full internal development, which can take months. Additionally, deploying commercial software, which requires companies to run their own global infrastructure, can be burdensome.

In 2017, 25% of companies used APIs to embed UC features, according to a report from Vidyo, a video conferencing provider based in Hackensack, N.J. This trend is expected to continue, as half of companies plan to deploy APIs this year, and another 78% plan to integrate APIs for embedded video in the future.

Embedded communication APIs also provide contextual information for workflows. Information out of context does not exactly help organizations, and it provides users with a fragmented experience — even with a project management interface to organize workflows.

In 2018, look for new features to put more contextualized information at workers’ fingertips. For example, a sidebar during a video conference could offer users information, such as certain content to address during the meeting or tasks associated with the active speaker.

The AI party arrives in the collaboration industry

As we push into 2018, keep an eye on the emergence of AI in the unified communications and collaboration industry. Virtual assistants and bots, for example, use AI to enrich the meeting experience.

Imagine sitting through a long conference call when the discussion moves to a topic that interests you. You call out, “Start recording conversation,” and a virtual assistant immediately begins recording. Then, you say, “Send me a transcript of this conversation.” And at the end of the call, the virtual assistant sends you a transcript with an analysis of the conversation that you can replay with action items.

Emerging technology in the contact center

Unified communications apps are revolutionizing business in general. But I predict 2018 will be a banner year for the customer-support industry in particular. Some companies have already integrated click-to-call features into their chatbots, but the quality of those features to date has been subpar.

Companies will move from telephony to instant video calls when connecting customers with agents. Thanks to instant translation and transcription services, the video widget will include real-time subtitles translated into French, English, Spanish or whatever language the customer needs to understand the service agent.

The agent experience will also improve. We’ll start to see AI bots on the back end that transcribe conversations and index all the words, so agents can be prompted with special content as the conversation unfolds. Agents could then send information to customers on the spot with a voice command.

Customers and agents will also be able to illustrate what they’re talking about with augmented reality (AR). Imagine you’re on the phone with a Comcast agent, and you can show the agent your router with your iPhone. The agent could send you diagrams of what to do — superimposed onto your router in AR. This process is now possible, thanks to Google and Apple embracing AR toolkits.

These emerging technologies indicate a bright future for the unified communications and collaboration industry. Whatever the next year holds, good luck in your journey.

Stephane Giraudie is CEO and founder of Voxeet, a provider of voice over IP web conferencing software based in San Francisco. 

Unified communications vendors continue consolidation carousel

The first week of 2018 saw a flurry of mergers and acquisitions swirl around the unified communications industry. The different deals among the various unified communications vendors included cloud-based communications mergers and vendors adding new capabilities to their portfolios.

Hybrid cloud communications provider Star2Star and European UC-as-a-service (UCaaS) provider Blueface are set to merge in a $500 million deal. The combined company will become StarBlue and have a global workforce of over 500 employees.

The merger underscores the continued consolidation in the UCaaS market, said Irwin Lazar, an analyst with Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill.

With Blueface based in Dublin, the merger should help Star2Star serve the European market, which could provide a competitive edge over smaller providers, Lazar said. However, he added, Star2Star still needs to invest in growing market awareness to more effectively compete with 8×8 Inc., Mitel, RingCentral and Vonage.

According to Gartner’s UCaaS Magic Quadrant, Star2Star, based in Sarasota, Fla., is a niche player with competitive pricing and a hybrid architecture that offers high reliability over low-speed broadband networks. However, Star2Star is smaller than other providers in the market in terms of revenue, number of employees and capital structure. The company also lacks brand recognition because of its channel-only sales approach.

Blueface CEO Alan Foy will become the CEO of Star2Star and group CEO of StarBlue. Amid the merger, Foy said in a statement, daily operations will remain “business as usual.” The combined company does not plan to change branding or partner and customer relationships, he said. The operating companies will keep their existing trade names in their respective markets.

Polycom to acquire VoIP service competitor

Other unified communications vendors are looking to boost their voice over IP prowess, as Polycom said it would acquire Obihai Technology Inc., a provider of VoIP software and hardware based in Campbell, Calif. The acquisition is expected to close in the first quarter.

“Obihai’s product and cloud services engineering expertise will be a powerful advantage for Polycom’s partners and their customers in an increasingly competitive market,” said Jan Fandrianto, CEO of Obihai.

Polycom, based in San Jose, Calif., will use Obihai’s services to add more cloud capabilities and analog terminal adapter services to its portfolio. The merger will also expand Polycom’s market reach and access to channel partners. Lazar said the acquisition eliminates a competitor for Polycom, and the technology could improve their line-of-business phones.

“Polycom faces an increasingly competitive phone market, as competitors like Snom and Yealink gain ground,” he said. Polycom’s partnership with BroadSoft is also in question following Cisco’s acquisition of BroadSoft in October 2017.

Calero boosts UC operations management

Communications lifecycle management software provider Calero Software, based in Rochester, N.Y., has acquired Comview Corp., a telecom expense management, call accounting and usage management software provider based in Huntington Station, N.Y. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Comview’s telecom expense management services are complementary to Calero’s services, said Steven Kaplan, a general partner at Riverside Partners, a private equity firm that acquired Calero in September 2017. Calero’s services help organizations — such as large enterprises, universities and government agencies — manage their cloud communication services, devices, contracts and spending.

Lazar said companies that invest in operations management platforms will see a reduction in their total cost of operations.

“Adoption of tools is relatively low, so there’s good opportunity for companies like Calero to expand and compete with vendors like Unimax and VOSS,” he said.

West acquires PhoneTree for automated messaging

West Corp. acquired PhoneTree, a provider of automated appointment reminder services and patient communication software based in Winston-Salem, N.C. PhoneTree will be integrated with West’s interactive services healthcare business. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The rise of communications platform as a service (CPaaS) has driven some unified communications vendors to enhance their messaging capabilities.

“By acquiring PhoneTree, West can offer packaged customer-facing messaging solutions that compete with CPaaS vendors that often require customers to build their own apps,” Lazar said. For example, a healthcare organization looking to add text-based appointment notifications could use PhoneTree’s service without having to write its own app.

West, based in Omaha, Neb., also acquired last year ECaTS, or Emergency Call Tracking System, a provider of 911 software-as-a-service network traffic monitoring and call-reporting services. Last year, West was acquired by Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm based in New York.

Many challenges ahead following Avaya bankruptcy proceedings

Avaya has exited bankruptcy court with the financial footing it needs to compete in the unified communications and contact-center markets. The next step is to regain the customer trust that eroded over the last year as the company fought to remove business-crushing debt.

Avaya exited federal bankruptcy court last week with roughly half the debt that had forced the company to reorganize its business under Chapter 11. The lower debt obligation resulting from the Avaya bankruptcy settlement produced a healthier company, with more than $300 million in cash on its balance sheet.

Besides the stronger finances, Avaya has a new management team led by former COO Jim Chirico, who took over for CEO Kevin Kennedy when he retired Oct. 1. Also, the company has a new board of directors to help guide it against its many competitors — the largest of which include Cisco, Microsoft and Huawei.

The positives, however, only let Avaya back into the market. Succeeding will depend on making prospective customers aware of the product innovations that got little attention while the company battled creditors in court.

“Very few of their customers, much less their prospective customers, heard the [marketing] messages,” said Drew Kraus, analyst at Gartner.

Additionally, Avaya has to reverse a tarnished reputation. In the years heading to bankruptcy, the company tackled declining revenue by cutting spending, which led to the loss of experienced managers in sales and professional and customer services, Kraus said. As a result, Avaya’s relationship with customers deteriorated “pretty badly.”

“Good technology with crappy service gets you nowhere,” Krauss said.

Addressing shortcomings following Avaya bankruptcy proceedings

Avaya has made changes to correct its sins of the past. For example, the company has carved the United States into smaller regions, so sales teams can respond faster to leads, said Jim Geary, the general manager for sales and service for Avaya in the Americas. The company has also added 10 to 15 consultants charged with helping businesses respond to market disruptions caused by a more digital world.

“It’s not necessarily about the Avaya products and solutions, but it’s really to the deep dives into what customers are trying to solve,” Geary said.

A survey conducted this year of companies using Avaya UC products found the vendor has “stopped the bleeding, and that customers are generally satisfied,” said Irwin Lazar, an analyst for Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill.

Companies sticking with Avaya UC products are doing so because of Breeze, the vendor’s application development platform, Lazar said. Breeze lets developers customize communication applications, so they’re more useful to an organization. On the contact-center side, Avaya has made inroads with companies through another customization platform, called Oceana.

“Their [Oceana] platform competes well against Genesys and Cisco in the contact-center space, and they have an opportunity to grow, especially internationally,” Lazar said.

UC challenges following Avaya bankruptcy settlement

Avaya’s ability to increases its share of the UC market, however, will be harder. “I don’t see them growing their customer base in UC in the mid- to large enterprise [market], given how that is dominated now by Cisco and Microsoft,” Lazar said.

A growing UC market segment where Avaya lacks a competitive product is cloud-based UC as a service (UCaaS), which is increasingly popular with small and medium-sized businesses, analysts said. In October, Synergy Research Group, based in Reno, Nev., reported that the UCaaS market was on track to increase 29% this year to more than $1.6 billion.

Avaya, however, isn’t ignoring UCaaS and plans to announce products for the market at its ENGAGE customer conference at the end of January, Geary said. “Look for us to be very active in that space in the coming quarters.”

Cisco DNA Center harmonizes wired, wireless LAN management

Cisco has unified wired and wireless LAN management within its software-based network architecture, which the company sells on a subscription basis.

The company introduced this week the option of using the Cisco DNA Center software console for distributing policy-based configurations across both networking environments. Cisco is selling the wireless LAN (WLAN) option under a three-tier subscription model.

Instead of selling the hardware outright, Cisco is letting customers pay for their Aironet access points, WLAN controller and the management console through a three-, five- or seven-year subscription.

The latest network architecture does not support Cisco’s Meraki WLAN portfolio, which operators manage through a cloud-based software console. Cisco DNA Center software and hardware are for on-premises deployment.

Several years ago, Cisco embarked on a strategy of selling products through a subscription model that results in a more steady and predictable flow of revenue. Investors often favor companies with successful recurring revenue models.

Cisco has set a target of having subscription revenue account for 37% of annual sales by 2020. A significant portion of that is expected to come from DNA Center. This year, the company predicts 10% of sales will be recurring.

Cisco’s latest announcement “further extends this [revenue] model for the campus network and signals that Cisco is moving ahead with transforming how its legacy campus networking technology is consumed,” said Nolan Greene, an IDC analyst.

Managing the WLAN in Cisco DNA Center

In June, Cisco introduced the Digital Network Architecture (DNA) Center as the central management console for a new line of campus switches, called the Catalyst 9000s. “With the importance of wireless networking in enterprises, it was inevitable that Cisco would eventually bring its WLAN portfolio into the fold,” said Mark Hung, a Gartner analyst.

A wireless controller running on a network appliance is the actual management application. The Cisco DNA Center is the front end that provides access to the controller’s user interface.

Based on policies set by the network operator, the controller configures the access points and provides visibility to traffic and hardware performance. It also delivers reporting and analytics based on telemetry data taken from network devices.

Cisco offers three different controller models: the 3504, 5520 and 8540. The higher-number models deliver more performance and throughput.

Differences within WLAN subscription models

The three levels within Cisco’s WLAN subscription model differ in security. The lowest level, DNA Essentials, has only baseline features, such as wireless intrusion detection to catch hackers trying to get to the corporate network through an access point. Essentials also has limited automation and monitoring capabilities.

The second level, DNA Advantage, includes the ability to segment a wireless network to prevent, for example, a hacked wireless video camera from trying to access corporate computers. Advantage also has policy-based automation and analytics.

The highest level, which is aimed at large enterprises, is called the Cisco ONE Advantage. The package includes the Cisco Identity Services Engine, which enforces security and access policies across the wired and wireless LAN.

Enterprises are spending more on the WLAN to provide employees with easier access to the corporate network. In the second quarter of this year, companies spent $1.5 billion on the WLAN — roughly 9% more than the same period a year ago, according to IDC.

UCaaS Magic Quadrant shows maturing, fragmented market

Unified communications as a service now offers capabilities that exceed on-premises unified communications, according to Gartner’s latest Magic Quadrant report for UCaaS.

Gartner’s 2017 UCaaS Magic Quadrant indicated the market has matured to the point where large enterprises, especially those with global locations, should seriously consider UCaaS products, said Daniel O’Connell, a Gartner analyst and co-author of the report.

“It’s no longer an SMB-only play,” he said. “UCaaS is something to consider for all organizations.”

UCaaS platforms include voice and telephony, conferencing, messaging, presence, desktop and mobile clients, and communication app integrations, such as contact center, team collaboration and business analytics.

All the vendors in Gartner’s report target midsize enterprises — between 1,000 to 5,000 employees — with a track record of customer success. Some midsize enterprises deploy UCaaS for the features and capabilities, user experience and flexibility of the cloud. Other companies deploy UCaaS to cut costs by consolidating communications to a single vendor, according to the UCaaS Magic Quadrant.

Large enterprises with more than 5,000 employees have traditionally shunned cloud-based UC in favor of on-premises deployments. But, more recently, cloud UC adoption has grown, as enterprises are becoming concerned that on-premises investments could be obsolete in a few years, compared with cloud deployments, the report found.

O’Connell said many UCaaS platforms today are global and support locations in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific and Latin America.

It’s no longer an SMB-only play. UCaaS is something to consider for all organizations.
Daniel O’Connellanalyst at Gartner

According to the report, enterprises can buy UCaaS platforms from four types of providers:

  • Communications service providers. These are legacy network services providers, such as Verizon, AT&T and Orange Business Services, which historically focus on voice and data services. They support UCaaS with UC stacks from vendors such as Microsoft, Cisco and BroadSoft.
  • Technology vendors. BroadSoft, Google, Microsoft and Mitel are technology vendors that offer UCaaS platforms that are sold directly to end users.
  • Application specialists. These providers include 8×8, Fuze and RingCentral. They are both the platform and service provider for UCaaS.
  • Value-added service providers. These providers include Masergy and West. They offer UCaaS by running UC technology from vendors like Microsoft, Cisco and BroadSoft in their own data centers and complementing UCaaS with their own value-added services, such as security, integration capabilities and network services.

Organizations should also look at UCaaS providers’ ability to support mobile services. “That’s where iPhone or Android devices can be the primary handset,” he said.

BroadSoft, Masergy debut on UCaaS Magic Quadrant

This year, UCaaS provider BroadSoft debuted on the report because of its BroadCloud platform, which is sold to enterprises primarily via channel partners under the BroadSoft Business brand that launched in November 2016. Historically, BroadSoft has sold its UCaaS platform, BroadWorks, to service providers, including Verizon, AT&T, Masergy and Orange. But the BroadCloud platform is controlled by BroadSoft, rather than embedded in other providers’ networks.

“They run the platform in data centers they control,” O’Connell said. “And they typically have channels sell it.”

This is why BroadSoft ranked in the UCaaS Magic Quadrant, while similar vendors, such as Cisco, which provide UCaaS platforms to other providers, did not.

O’Connell said Cisco’s Hosted Collaboration Solution is sold to partners — such as Verizon, AT&T, BT and Orange — and is embedded in their networks. Because Cisco’s partners run the platform, the vendor is not eligible for the UCaaS Magic Quadrant. But that could change with Cisco Spark.

“The next cloud wave of Cisco is Spark,” he said. As Cisco Spark evolves into more of a UCaaS offering, the vendor could see itself on a future report. “They’re putting a lot of investment and building a PBX capability, as well.”

Masergy also debuted on this year’s UCaaS Magic Quadrant, as the vendor matured in terms of revenue, global reach and customer size, O’Connell said.

Shifting the UCaaS ranks

O’Connell said the UCaaS market is seeing traction from vendors like AT&T, Verizon, BT and Orange. Verizon was named a market leader, driven by the vendor’s investment in its One Talk mobility platform.

“It’s pretty innovative and has a lot of potential,” he said. The service, currently available only in the U.S., connects office phones to mobile devices and is based on BroadSoft’s PBX environment.

AT&T, named a challenger in the report, has a UCaaS platform based on its Integrated Cloud architecture, which the vendor can package in a software-defined network or network functions virtualization environment, O’Connell said.

“It does look interesting, assuming they can scale this and put it out,” he said. “They can combine with not just cloud UC, but integrated routers or firewalls.”

Orange was named a market leader, as the vendor is well-positioned for midsize and large enterprises with multinational locations. UCaaS is a core business for Orange.

In the past year, Fuze dropped from the leader to visionary ranking because of customer service issues and complex deployments, O’Connell said. However, he said, the vendor has been “growing nicely,” and revenue is expanding in the 40% range.

ShoreTel, Interoute and Vonage were dropped from this year’s UCaaS Magic Quadrant because the vendors did not meet certain criteria, such as maturity in global markets. Additionally, Mitel is acquiring ShoreTel.

Other market leaders in this year’s report include RingCentral, 8×8, BT and West. Meanwhile, Microsoft and Google were named challengers, and Mitel was named a visionary. 

8×8 and Atlassian integrate team collaboration tools

Cloud communications provider 8×8 Inc. is teaming up with Atlassian to offer integrated unified communications services that will include team collaboration tools, contact center, messaging services and other offerings.

8×8, based in San Jose, Calif., will integrate its Virtual Office unified-communications-as-a-service product with Atlassian’s team collaboration tool HipChat, which is becoming Stride. The 8×8 and Atlassian integration will offer customers team collaboration tools such as telephony, video, meetings and messaging from within HipChat rooms.

The collaboration between 8×8 and Sydney-based Atlassian also aims to enhance customer support through the integration of 8×8 ContactNow and Atlassian’s Jira Service Desk. With this integration, IT support and customer service representatives can work within the Jira Service Desk system by:

  • making and receiving calls from within a ticket with click-to-call capabilities;
  • offering intelligent search capabilities to find caller tickets by name, number and email address;
  • automatically listing ticket info with caller information; and
  • recording call details directly into a ticket at call completion.

Atlassian is also known for its work in the world of DevOps. By teaming up with Atlassian, 8×8 is looking to become the “de facto voice for DevOps,” 8×8 CTO Bryan Martin said in a statement.

AeroFS and Redbooth merge on collaboration, task management

AeroFS, a collaboration software provider, has merged with Redbooth, a task and project management platform. The new entity will retain the Redbooth name and combine products and other assets.

Redbooth offers online task and project management software for work teams. Users can prioritize and delegate tasks and create visual timelines. Earlier this year, AeroFS unveiled a new release of its Amium cloud-based collaboration platform that lets users collaborate with people outside their organizations. 

By integrating the two products, the new company increases the functionalities in a single service. The merged platforms should help workers consolidate their team collaboration tools. Vendor and user consolidation is an ongoing trend around the UC and collaboration market.

Currently, some workers might use too many services, such as five or six separate team collaboration tools, AeroFS CEO Yuri Sagalov said in a statement. Sagalov will be Redbooth’s new CEO. Both AeroFS and Redbooth are based in Palo Alto, Calif., and have targeted small and medium businesses, as well as larger enterprises.

Talkdesk launches mobile contextual communications

Talkdesk, a San Francisco-based cloud contact-center platform, has unveiled Talkdesk Context, a suite of products that provides data on customer self-service activity to contact center agents. Context Mobile is the first service to launch within the Talkdesk Context suite.

Context Mobile provides real-time information about a customer’s mobile in-app activity to customer service agents so they can provide relevant and personalized support. This new technology, available now for mobile apps, is built for customers who often look for self-service options before calling a contact center for support. Context Mobile, which features artificial intelligence capabilities, identifies callers instantly and passes information about their in-app activity to the contact center agent who answers their call.

Delivery of this real-time information to the agent looks to reduce the time that customers spend on support calls. With this service, customers won’t necessarily need to confirm their identities and explain their needs. For contact center agents, Context Mobile illustrates everything customers have gone through to serve themselves.

App Annie, a San Francisco-based app market data company, found that consumers spent nearly 900 billion hours in apps during 2016, an increase of more than 150 billion hours from 2015.