What’s this? Cisco UCaaS rated HIGHER than Skype for Business? How?!

Amazing as it might seem, that is how Gartner recently ranked them: Gartner’s Magic Quadrant 2017 for Unified Communications

Their 2017 UC rankings have Cisco at #1 overall. Skype for Business is tied with Mitel on Vision at #2.

Why is Cisco #1? How did they beat Skype?

Yes, I’m feeling a little territorial. Most of our customers who already have some form of VoIP in their office are using Cisco. And given what they ask from us, they want off of it!

I went looking into this ranking, and wound up taking a little journey. A journey well worth blogging about, as you’ll soon see.

How Gartner Ranks Unified Communications Services

I went looking for reasons why Cisco is still rated above Skype for Business. In the process I found that Gartner has a pretty good approach. They rank many different IT services in several categories, using a series of specialized research factors.

A central factor is Gartner’s research methodology. They collate data from multiple sources and use it to graph services. The X-axis is “Completeness of Vision” and the Y-axis is “Ability to Execute.”

Gartner organizes its results into four categories: Leaders, Challengers, Visionaries, and Niche Players. Leaders rank highest on Vision and Execution. Challengers rank high on Execution, but low on Vision. Visionaries have good Vision, but poor Execution. Niche Players are low on both.

Unified Communications research
Image courtesy of Gartner.com.

This is what they have for 2017’s UCaaS (by brand):

  • Leaders: Cisco, Microsoft, Mitel
  • Challengers: Huawei, NEC, Avaya
  • Visionaries: Unify
  • Niche Players: ALE, ShoreTel

Now, Completeness of Vision and Ability to Execute are themselves value judgments. They’ll require experience data and testing. How does Gartner arrive at such judgments?

The second slide tells us:

“Gartner evaluated UC vendors that offer enterprise equipment, software and services around VoIP, video, web conferencing, telephony, messaging, applications and UCaaS solutions.”

I would not consider a UCaaS solution complete if it didn’t have all of these elements. So, good on Gartner for making sure they’re included.

But this itself led to another curiosity. In the Cisco slides, Gartner described the available Cisco UC services it considered for Magic Quadrant. From Paragraph 2 on the first slide:

“Cisco’s UCaaS Spark offers messaging, calling and meeting space that support workstream collaboration.”

Spark, huh? What’s so great about Spark?

Cisco Spark 411

Reading this made me realize I haven’t taken a thorough look at Spark yet. I’ll have to do a detailed Spark/Skype4B comparison at some point.

In the meantime, we have our good buddy Matt Landis’ Cisco Spark Review to cite!

What it does do:

  • Instant Messaging
  • Organizes by Rooms
  • Video Calls
  • Screen Sharing (but no ability to transfer control)
  • Upload files
  • Delete messages

What it doesn’t do:

  • Audio calls only (unless you use a Cisco phone)
  • Presence status
  • Archive video calls or screen sharing
Cisco Spark vs. Skype for Business
“Why do our sales projections look like pyramids?”
Image courtesy of Cisco.com

(In fairness, I have not tested Spark out yet. This little mini-review is only for reference.)

Gartner factored Spark in with Cisco’s other UC offerings, such as Unified Communications Manager. Interesting…so in order to present a full UCaaS solution, and thus compete head-to-head with Skype4B, they had to bundle some things together.

Well, I’ll take what I can get.

Spark is More like Teams

From Matt’s review and subsequent reading, Cisco Spark seems more like Microsoft Teams than Skype for Business. In fact, I found a G2 Crowd comparison that puts them neck-and-neck. Teams edges ahead in ease of use & status updates, but Spark pulls ahead on search and file sharing.

Which at last brings us to another reason why Cisco ranked higher. This is the 2017 magic quadrant. It gathered data from 2016, and maybe early 2017. Teams was not in General Availability for most of that time. Spark was.

So a full, direct comparison just wasn’t possible. Gartner ranked on the basis of available solutions at the time. That’s nobody’s fault…just how the market worked out.

Gartner Deserves Credit for Its Work (I Just Think One “Leader” is Better than the Other)

Now, I don’t want to come across as mad at Gartner or anything. Some fellow Spiceheads mentioned that the Magic Quadrants inform their purchasing decisions. Good! Their results represent lots of research.

Cisco comes across as a walled garden. (And an expensive one.) Trying to control all forms of communication, limiting the hardware you can use, not playing too nicely with other systems. (The number of times we’ve had Skype issues because of someone using a Cisco phone…)

We’re big on Skype for Business not just because it’s some of Microsoft’s most useful software. But also because it plays nice (or nicer!) with other systems. When you pick up the phone to call someone, it shouldn’t matter what type of phone they’re on. Skype, Cisco, Mitel, RingCentral, iPhone, Android…the call should connect without hiccup.

At least from our experience, when you’re using Cisco UC? Hiccups happen often.

What’s your experience with Cisco Unified Communications? Please comment or email.

Next post we’ll have some fancy new device reviews. Make sure to come back for those!

Gartner Rankings for Cisco UC and Skype for Business – Which is Better?

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