The Gartner analysis isn't really a linear ranking, instead showing major vendors mapped out on a chart composed of four quadrants (niche players, challengers, visionaries, and leaders). Still, placement in the upper right hand corner of the chart reserved for leaders is a prized position. Despite its strong position in networking and Internet telephony, Cisco until now has been lagging slightly behind Microsoft in unified communications--that is, the ability to deliver a bundle of communication and collaboration services that includes voice, video, online presence indicators, instant messaging, and conferencing.
"This is a big change," said Michael Smith, director of marketing for collaboration solutions at Cisco.
Well, maybe not that big. Last year, Gartner showed Cisco and Microsoft virtually neck and neck, but gave the edge to Microsoft. This year, they are still neck and neck, but Cisco has inched ahead.
Microsoft has staked out a strong position by making synchronous collaboration an extension of the product family that includes Microsoft Office and SharePoint. The Microsoft Lync UC product has proven attractive to major corporations like AstraZeneca, as well as smaller businesses. Gartner continues to give the Microsoft product a strong rating, saying it is improving all the time.
[ Can you court controversy with class? Read Engaging The Enemy On Social Media: 5 SMB Tips.]
The other vendors Gartner classifies as leaders are Avaya and Siemens Enterprise Communications. Leaders are considered to have the best combination of vision and ability to execute. The report also evaluated vendors classified as challengers (including IBM, Alcatel-Lucent, and NEC), meaning that they are strong enterprise players who are still developing their product vision. Gartner recognized Mitel as a visionary for its strategy of combining UC and virtualization.
Gartner said four factors that were important to this year's rankings were support for a variety of mobile devices and operating systems, support for open standards, cloud deployment options, and broad appeal to the corporate constituencies affected by the choice of a UC solution.
Smith believes Cisco's support for devices like the iPad counted in its favor, in contrast to Microsoft's more limited and tentative support for non-Windows devices. Gartner did cite broad mobile OS support as one area of concern for Microsoft customers.
Gartner credited Cisco with "full UC functionality, including video and telephony, on a broad range of clients, including Apple laptops, iPads, and iPhones, as well as on Android platforms." Cisco also won praise for attractive hybrid cloud and on-premises deployment options. On the other hand, Gartner said Cisco offers a complex portfolio of products that remains "complex to understand and manage."
You can read the full report by following the link from Cisco's blog post on the ranking.
Social media make the customer more powerful than ever. Here's how to listen and react. Also in the new, all-digital The Customer Really Comes First issue of The BrainYard: The right tools can help smooth over the rough edges in your social business architecture. (Free registration required.)