French IT service provider Atos has reached an agreement to acquire Unify, a provider of integrated communication solutions, from The Gores Group and Siemens for an enterprise value of €590 million, of which €340 million is cash. Unify’s 5,600 employees generated an estimated €1.2 billion in revenue in 2014. Atos, 12% of which is owned by Siemens, hopes to finalize the deal in the first quarter of 2016.

Over the past few years, Unify has managed to transform its portfolio from traditional PBX products to robust, scalable, and carrier-grade solutions for IP voice, web collaboration, video conferencing, mobility, and advanced messaging; clients can add these to existing communication infrastructure to enhance business processes and productivity. However, this transformation wasn’t always easy for Unify’s customers, as it brought disruption and often meant integration and transition assistance. What can Unify’s customers expect should the Atos deal materialize? We believe that the deal will:

  • Nicely combine Unify's Circuit platform with Atos’ blueKiwi and cloud offerings. Potentially, Atos can create something promising by combining Unify with its existing communication and collaboration assets. Atos’ unified communications (UC) offering stretches from telephony, messaging, calendars, and video and audio conferencing to collaboration solutions. Atos delivers UC either as a standalone service or as part of a workplace solution. We expect Unify to become part of Atos’ UC offering, which also comprises the enterprise social collaboration software blueKiwi. However, this process will involve integration challenges; hopefully, the fact that Siemens is a worldwide user of Unify’s Circuit platform will mitigate these.
  • Broaden Unify’s access to new technology partners as part of the Atos ecosystem. Unify will get access to a wider set of partners through Atos. However, it will face awkward moments as it joins the Atos family and finds itself next to its competitors: Atos is vendor-independent and has strategic partnerships with the leading players in workplace technology, including Cisco, Citrix, EMC, Intel, Microsoft, and VMware. It remains to be seen how Atos manages these relationships now that it is becoming a larger provider of UC solutions in its own right.
  • Help overcome aspects of Unify’s lack of scale. A major challenge for Unify in the past few years has been its small size compared with UC behemoths like Avaya, Cisco, IBM Connections Suite, and Microsoft’s Skype for Business (formerly Lync). Although size matters a lot less in a world of software-based solutions, scale still matters for enterprise customer support structures and enterprise sales. As part of the Atos family, Unify will gain much-needed access to a much larger support and sales infrastructure. This should help Unify more effectively support customers globally.

In the coming months, Unify customers should demand clear answers from Atos about how it intends to integrate Unify into its wider UC offering. There is a risk that Atos’ UC offering will continue to grow organically without a clear focus, ultimately resembling a “hawker's tray” of various unrelated communication and collaboration tools. To become a credible provider of enterprise communication and collaboration solutions and to compete with the large US UC vendors, Atos needs to embrace a more focused approach that ties communication and collaboration to business process improvements.