The unified communications (UC) market is expected to be worth $143.5 billion by 2024, and tech behemoths like Microsoft, Cisco and Google are looking to cash in. Each brand has taken strides to capture as much of the market’s growth as possible by delivering to users a distinct set of services. Over the last year, both Microsoft and Cisco have worked to improve interoperability. For example, we saw Microsoft make Skype for Business available through Cisco Expressway. At the same time, Google retooled its Hangouts app for enterprise use in an effort to grow its business customer base.
While there are clear consistencies in the “Big Three’s” product road maps, there are some main areas where the platforms deviate, making it difficult for organizations to determine which best suits their needs. Here are three considerations that organizations should keep in mind when choosing a new UC provider.
1. Adoption depends partly on employee familiarity. When it comes to implementing a UC platform, success is largely measured not by time-to-deploy but by employee adoption. Therefore, it is important for organizations to consider the tools employees already use before mass deployment.
Google - Given its popularity among consumers, Hangouts is one of the most recognizable tools for employees. As a result, it's one of the most widely adopted. However, as Hangouts pivots to become more enterprise-focused, it risks losing some of its consumer familiarity.
Microsoft - When Microsoft shifted from Lync to Skype for Business, it experienced higher brand recognition and curb appeal among end users. This broader recognition ultimately reduces training hurdles and mitigates potential resistance to adoption. With a recognizable enterprise-grade tool, employees are far less likely to use unsanctioned technologies for their collaboration needs.
Cisco - As a purely enterprise tool, Spark’s awareness among the consumer market may hinder organizational adoption. A lack of consumer recognition also creates a lengthier learning curve, requiring more training to familiarize employees with best practices.
2. Solutions function differently alongside existing systems. Microsoft, Google and Cisco each function differently when it comes to integration into pre-existing systems. Organizations should consider what levels of cross-platform compatibility they need when weighing their options.
Google - Overall, Hangouts struggles with cross-platform compatibility, especially among nontraditional devices like connected whiteboards. While it does integrate well with a handful of enterprise apps like Slack, broader app integration is still limited.
Microsoft - Microsoft also struggles with integration outside of its own applications like Office 365, where its UC capabilities are at their finest. While this obstacle does not impact small and mid-sized businesses that rely exclusively on Office 365, larger organizations that use a variety of vendors often seek third-party support – a cost that should be considered when determining which vendor to use.
Cisco - Of the three systems, Cisco Spark is the most flexible platform supporting on-premises capabilities and a wider range of devices like room conference systems and digital whiteboards. Cisco’s less restrictive approach is ideal for industries with explicit security, privacy and e-discovery needs. Compared to Microsoft and Google’s focus on group collaboration tools, Spark is more traditional with its focus remaining on messaging, voice and video.
3. Platform sophistication and primary features. Having entered the UC market at varying times, each platform is at a different level of maturity. As the industry continues to evolve, each company will learn from its competitors on how to best improve its services. Until then, organizations need to make sure they’re selecting a vendor that has all the features they need.
Google - Hangouts is the newest entrant to the UC space, and therefore is lacking a few standard enterprise features, such as enterprise security. Google could also learn from Microsoft by better integrating and bundling its collaboration apps. However, Hangouts touts a modern interface that champions simplicity — an approach that appeals to Millennial workers.
Microsoft - Microsoft’s Skype for Business has served the enterprise market longer than Google Hangouts, ultimately meaning it’s better constructed to support business use. To further enhance internal and external communication and collaboration, many organizations are motivated to add Microsoft’s UC services into their pre-existing Microsoft ecosystems. One learning Microsoft can take away from Cisco is allowing for better cross-vendor integration and greater support for on-premises use.
Cisco - Similar to Microsoft, Spark has had more time to mature in the enterprise market and as a result, provides broader device compatibility and on-premises support. Cisco should mimic Google’s emphasis on simplicity for users to alleviate deployment and adoption challenges.
Google, Microsoft and Cisco boast unique strengths that ultimately define their approach to unified communications. As the battle for UC customers heats up, organizations will benefit from improved service and choices. Organizations can be sure they’re selecting the right vendor by carefully comparing each vendor’s capabilities with their unique needs.