Communications Dream Teams for the Digital Workplace

Can you buy a digital workplace? If you did, what would it do? This five-part series analyzes Gartner Magic Quadrants to envision an architectural landscape for an integrated digital workplace to enable communications, content management, and mobile self-service. The goal is to bring ideas to the table for stakeholder discussions that strike a balance between enterprise integration and best-of-breed capabilities, to guide emerging strategies for digital workplace platforms and workforce enablement.

Part II: Communications

This section takes a deep dive into Magic Quadrants that enable communications:

  • Unified Communications (voice/video/IM/screensharing)
  • Secure Email Gateways (SEG)
  • Corporate Telephony
  • Web Conferencing
  • Group Video
  • Social Software in the Workplace
  • Communications Leaders Summary

Telecommunications is so essential to the digital workplace that it has become transparent. Workers switch without thinking from email to cell phone to social to instant message to video call. Too often intranets and messaging teams are disjoint, so that bringing unified communications and social sharing to the intranet is the first and most obvious step from intranet to digital workplace. Vendors in this space must not only deliver best-in-class email, conferencing, messaging, presence, telephony, group video, and social networking, but must make multimodal communications effortless everywhere.

Leaders that appear in two or more quadrants of the Communications group include Cisco, Microsoft, Mitel, and IBM. However, a broad range of capability requirements make it highly unlikely that a single vendor could meet the needs of most midsize to large enterprises, even under significant cost pressure to rationalize and consolidate. Integration connectors and strong identity management from IT, and business requirements for cross-platform user experience, will be the key opportunities for success in digital workplace communications.

Unified Communications

Gartner distinguishes two markets in the unified communications space, one for large enterprises and one for small to midsize businesses of under 1000 employees and/or $1 billion. UC encompasses telephony, conferencing, messaging, presence and IM, unified clients for desktop and mobile, and integrating communications into business applications and processes. This last is the key touchpoint between UC and intranets for a digital workplace, even though UC may have been outside the scope of a more traditional intranet team. Mobility is a key differentiator in unified communications, and digital workplace teams will want to ensure that they select a UC vendor with strong capabilities in MDM and enterprise mobility.

For large enterprises, Cisco (WebEx) and Microsoft (Skype for Business) drive the Leaders quadrant, with Microsoft in the lead for ability to execute and Cisco for completeness of vision. Avaya and Mitel are a second tier of Leaders, much closer in ability to execute to Challengers ALE and NEC. IBM and ShoreTel are unexpected Visionaries in the space, while Niche players Unify, Huawei, and Interactive Intelligence bring up the rear. In the midmarket space, Cisco and Mitel are the Leaders with Avaya and ShoreTel. NEC is a Challenger for small to midsize businesses, but Microsoft has moved into the Visionary spot along with Unify. Digium, Toshiba, and Interactive Intelligence trail the field of Niche players.

Customers already invested in Cisco or Mitel may want to stay put, but large and even midsize enterprises looking to consolidate digital workplace vendors should evaluate their current platforms head-to-head against Skype for Business. Microsoft’s broader user experience for integrated communications is worth a look before (re)committing to a standalone UC provider. Microsoft’s deep UX integration across digital workloads for content and self-service can easily outweigh a best-of-breed business case for communications. The single most effective move for intranet teams looking to define their role as digital workplace leaders may be to step up to the plate as a business sponsor of Skype for Business as a communications complement to intranet publishing.

Secure Email Gateways (SEG)

Email is still the communications backbone of any enterprise. Secure email gateways (SEGs) are the firewall for corporate email networks, providing basic message transfer agent functions; inbound filtering of spam, phishing, malicious and marketing emails; and outbound data loss prevention (DLP) and email encryption. Corporate email is a highly mature market, and as a deeply embedded part of IT infrastructure, email may be one of the most difficult areas for front-office digital workplace teams to influence. However, the drive to cloud infrastructure will bring email into the unified communications space from the back end, so business leaders will want to keep close tabs on the cloud email roadmap emerging from IT and align it with a digital workplace vision.

Proofpoint is the Leader of choice for the most advanced cybersecurity backed by machine learning, while Cisco leads Microsoft in the rest of the Leaders quadrant for corporate email. Symantec is a lone Challenger in the email space, edging toward Microsoft. Among Visionaries, Intel Security and Trend Micro improve on Microsoft’s completeness of vision, while Mimecast, Websense, and BEA Systems cannot match Microsoft’s ability to execute. A long tail of Niche players includes Barracuda, Sophos, Clearswift, Fortinet, Dell, Trustwave and Watchguard.

Best of breed is highly unlikely to be a business driver in such a mature market, where change resistance can be expected. With identity management and single sign-on coming to the fore as must-have digital workplace infrastructure, Microsoft Azure Active Directory and Exchange Online define a clear path to email in the cloud. A clear IT roadmap for identity management, including user profile integration with HR systems of record, will be key to the success of any major overhaul of the email backbone. On the business side, continued focus on a digital workplace vision can help drive change in what will likely be a protracted infrastructure upgrade.

Corporate Telephony

The telephone is a mission-critical, yet often invisible, piece of digital workplace infrastructure. Web communications like VoIP and group video complement mobile phones for multimodal communications, and it can be tempting to cut the cord on landline PBX systems entirely. However, the uptime and reliability of corporate telephony make it necessary, especially for large enterprises, to continue to invest in landline telephony as core infrastructure. Key requirements include very high availability, analog support for faxes, modems, and service outside Ethernet-available locations, emergency services, support for automated and human attendants, and tight integration with UC providers and services. Again, Cisco leads the Leaders field followed by Avaya and Mitel. Microsoft is the strongestChallenger in this space, along with NEC and ALE. Unify is the only Visionary, and Huawei the sole Niche player.

Microsoft partners like AT&T, British Telecom, HP, Orange Business Services, Verizon and others deliver a combined Lync and Office 365 service as a complete unified hosted offering for corporate telephony in the cloud, and Microsoft and Cisco are going head-to-head for this market. This may drive disruption among organizations where IT communications is managed by an infrastructure team and collaboration by an applications team, with a platform divide between Cisco and Microsoft. Strong business sponsorship from a digital workplace group will be necessary to bridge this gap, especially in cost reduction scenarios that pit telephony vendors, and their IT teams, against each other in a zero-sum game. Bringing telephony leadership to the table for a user-centered digital workplace vision and strategy session will be mission-critical to platform decisionmaking.

Web Conferencing

Web conferencing is a key standalone capability within unified communications, and has its own Magic Quadrant. Web conferencing is a core capability for the digital workplace, and integrating multichannel user communications into mobile and collaboration workflows is a key to success. As in the broader UC Magic Quadrant, Cisco and Microsoft lead the Leaders pack along with Adobe, joined by IBM, Citrix, and AT&T. Google is a lone Challenger in web conferencing with Google Hangouts, which may be most compelling for small to midsize businesses invested in Google for Business for collaboration and file sharing. The Visionaries field is crowded with startups like Vidyo, Zoom, and Fuze along with established players PGI and West UC Services, while Niche players distinguish themselves with Blackboard for the education market, LogMeIn with freemium product, and Arkadin as an emerging offering from Japanese giant NTT Communications.

Again, a broader vision and strategy must guide a digital workplace roadmap that could easily fragment into best-of-breed vendor selection. Enterprises where Cisco or Citrix are deeply embedded may want to pick their battles here, and continue with a multivendor strategy in the short term that uses WebEx or GoToMeeting for formal web conferencing, while leveraging Skype for Business for informal peer-to-peer sharing within Office 365. Organizations that have layered web conferencing on top of older intranet and collaboration platforms, especially SharePoint on-premise, may want to re-evaluate even the visionary players, and certainly niche players, for ROI against a Skype For Business bundle with Office 365.

Group Video

Group video conferencing is a higher-end version of web conferencing that can connect mobile users in a digital workplace to physical meeting rooms with dedicated hardware and room systems. Cisco is the clear front runner in a Leadersfield that also ranks Polycom and Vidyo solidly as market leaders. There are noChallengers in this space and only one Visionary, Life-size. Niche players Huawei, Avaya, Smart and ZTE barely register on other Magic Quadrants, making them less suited to an integrated digital workplace with unified communications. Since Microsoft does not figure in this specialized Magic Quadrant, enterprises with high-end group video and VR meeting room needs will want to layer Cisco, Polycom, Vidyo, or LifeSize on top of intranet and self-service platforms, especially SharePoint on-premise without Office 365.

Social Software in the Workplace

Microsoft (Yammer/SharePoint) leads the Leaders quadrant, followed closely by IBM (Connections/Verse) and Jive with strong showings by SalesForce (Chatter) and Tibco (Tibbr). Challengers VMWare (SocialCast), Atlassian (Confluence), and Sitrion are pushing close to the leaders’  completeness of vision, but lack the ability to execute of all the leaders except Tibco, which trails the leaders’ quadrant. SAP (SuccessFactors/Jam) and Google (Apps for Work) are strong Visionaries in the space, with a completeness of vision that rivals the leaders and an ability to execute that almost pushes them into the Leaders quadrant. Niche players Huddle, Igloo, Liferay, and Zyncro Tech cannot match either the completeness of vision or the ability to execute found in the Challengers and Visionaries, although Huddle comes the closest.

Social is the linchpin between communications and content. The market is moving rapidly beyond standalone enterprise social networks into embedded experiences that make social just another unified communications channel. Microsoft holds the winning hand with the widespread dominance of Active Directory for employee profiles. Azure A/D integration with Exchange Online and Yammer, not to mention Skype for Business/Lync and SharePoint, gives Microsoft a very deep hand in this game.

Enterprises with successful social communities on Jive, Chatter, Tibbr, or SAP Jam are in a position to pursue a multivendor strategy, since all of these vendors have SharePoint connectors. Google is more of an either/or scenario, since Google’s integrated ecosystem can match or beat Microsoft for digital agility and consumer adoption. IBM is in a similar situation, best suited to all-in-one IBM shops. VMWare and Atlasssian teams will want to look to the broader communications and content roadmap, as well as mobile self-service before building a true digital workplace on these platforms.

UC teams committed to Cisco with widespread Jabber adoption may still decide to capitalize on their success, focusing their strategy on user experience and adoption rather than forcing a vendor confrontation with Yammer for infrastructure and cost reasons. Integrated user experience is more important in this space than best-of-breed vendor ranking, even outside the Magic Quadrant. If social communications ain’t broke, don’t fix it! And don’t try to upgrade it before engaging end users and studying any organic social networks already in place. Standalone social strategies are unlikely to survive the next five years of digital workplace planning.

Communications Leaders Summary

Who are the communications leaders in the digital workplace? When working with Cisco, Microsoft, Mitel, IBM, and probably several visionaries or niche players, here are some strategy tips to consider.

  • No single-vendor platform will meet the broad communications capabilities needed in the digital workplace
  • User profiles and single sign-on are core infrastructure that may take several phases to implement
  • Layering and integrating visionaries and challengers into market leaders is a reasonable and viable strategy
  • Mobility is a key differentiator in unified communications
  • Intranet teams should step up as business owners of Skype for Business, WebEx, or GoToMeeting
  • Cloud infrastructure and security, not user experience, will drive email platform upgrades
  • Bring telephony leaders to the table for digital workplace vision to avoid zero-sum platform conflicts
  • Social is the linchpin between communications and content
  • Messaging infrastructure and application teams need to partner for social collaboration
  • Standalone social networks are maturing into just another embedded communications channel
  • Integration connectors and identity management are key components of a successful roadmap

Part III in this series will cover the Magic Quadrants for content management: enterprise file sync and share (EFSS), enterprise content management (ECM), web content management (WCM), and enterprise search.


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