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Enterprise messaging unseating UC platforms? Not so fast

Market research debunks claims that enterprise messaging apps are poised to take market share away from UC vendors.

Enterprise messaging applications received a lot of attention at Enterprise Connect 2015, with some experts claiming these free apps, easy to download and use, are poised to give UC platforms a run for their money.

But so far, market data isn't supporting that claim.

Enterprise messaging tools like Slack, a project management and business communication app, and HipChat, an app for instant messaging, and group and video chatting, are changing the unified communications (UC) game. Industry analysts agree that these apps are making communications and collaboration (UC&C) easier for users, putting pressure on market leaders Microsoft and Cisco.

Unlike standalone UC&C platforms, enterprise messaging apps that use WebRTC treat UC&C as just another feature that can be implemented in places where employees need real-time communications. These apps are going to "converge and compete with enterprise- grade UC and collaboration products," blogger and consultant Tsahi Levent-Levi predicted at Enterprise Connect.

But that doesn't mean the UC giants are feeling the pinch. There still isn't enough data showing that enterprise messaging apps are beating out enterprise-grade UC and collaboration (UC&C) products.

UC&C sales are still going strong. The number of global enterprise UC licenses for desktop soft clients grew from approximately 13% to 21% in 2014, with Cisco, Microsoft and Avaya the top three leaders, according to Frost & Sullivan research.

Many enterprises are making plans to consolidate their UC&C efforts by whittling down to one vendor, often selecting a larger player. Nemertes Research Group found that 31% of organizations plan to mesh their UC strategy onto a single platform by the end of 2015, with another 46% noting they're evaluating consolidation. Of the 31% with definite consolidation plans, 41% plan to consolidate onto Microsoft and 29% will consolidate onto Cisco, said Nemertes Research analyst Irwin Lazar.

WebRTC could help close the competitive gap between messaging app and UC tools

WebRTC is a standard for embedding communications directly into browser-based applications so users can access voice and video without downloading plug-ins. Thanks to the standard, enterprise messaging apps allow for more than just instant messaging and presence. As a result, WebRTC is helping enterprise messaging apps become a formidable competitor to UC platforms because real-time communications can be embedded anywhere, even within existing business applications. Case in point: Slack's recent acquisition of Screenhero, which uses WebRTC to anchor its screen sharing service. The purchase gives Slack what it was lacking: real-time voice and video functionality.

Moreover, said Levent-Levi, WebRTC is empowering messaging apps by giving them all the features of a full-blown UC platform -- such as screen sharing, and voice and video communications -- without the costs and deployment complexity that frequently trips up adoption. 

But UC vendors are also incorporating WebRTC technology into their enterprise-grade UC platforms. UC&C tools such as Unify's Circuit, Cisco's Spark (formerly Project Squared) and Avaya's OnAvaya cloud-based product for the contact center all use WebRTC.

These vendors will have to keep it up, said Nemertes' Lazar, citing Nemertes research that found that more than a quarter of 200 organizations interviewed said they were evaluating WebRTC and asking their UC vendors about it.

Despite increasing calls for integration, Microsoft has yet to support WebRTC natively within its Internet Explorer browser. Instead, the vendor will support Object RTC, a free, open source project and WebRTC competitor. Microsoft's Skype for Business, formally Lync, will need to show support either for ORTC or WebRTC in the future, analysts say.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Gina Narcisi, senior news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter. 

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