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Cisco to CPaaS Providers: Game On!

Cisco acquires Tropo cloud API platform, gets serious about attracting developers to build for its UC&C apps.

Cisco announced this morning its intent to acquire cloud API platform provider Tropo. Together, Cisco and Tropo will provide a collaboration platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) aimed at letting enterprise and partner developers communications-enable applications with ease.

For all the success that Cisco has had in the collaboration market, the company has struggled in attracting developers to build UC-based applications. Cisco has talked the talk of being a "platform" vendor, but hasn't been able to walk that walk yet. While the revamped DevNet program is much better than previous initiatives, Cisco is still in the early stages of building the community. This is particularly so in the collaboration space, which should be the low-hanging fruit for DevNet.

With this morning's acquisition announcement, Cisco took a big step in filling that void. For those unfamiliar with Tropo, the company is a relatively small (43 employees) CPaaS provider located in Menlo Park, Calif. Small as Tropo is, the CPaaS it offers already has attracted more than 200,000 developers using the platform. While there may be some bigger companies in this space or ones that are more well known, Tropo makes a good fit for Cisco for the following reasons:

In my 2015 Enterprise Connect wrap-up blog, I had stated my belief that the CPaaS market had come to life this year. At the show, Twilio took center stage and seemed to be everywhere, and Genband was showing off a bunch of cool communications-enabled applications in its Kandy truck. It seems like we've been talking about communications-enabled applications now for years, but the shift to the cloud has really made the market come to life.

I believe the last point above on SP integration was probably a significant factor in Cisco's decision to acquire Tropo over others. Each CPaaS provider approaches the market somewhat differently.

Nexmo does SMS better than anyone. Twilio is great at enabling developers to build communications applications with a consumer look and feel. And Tropo excels in enabling developers to build communications-enabled applications with SP-grade scale and performance.

Saying that Spark has become the focal point for Cisco collaboration is as big an understatement as saying that Rowan isn't your typical Cisco executive. Spark is certainly new and cool, but it's still a product -- not a platform. I talked to Rowan about this at Enterprise Connect, and we discussed Spark eventually shifting from being a stand-alone product to being a set of capabilities that a developer could drop into other applications. The challenge was that Cisco didn't have the developer tools to do this. Now it does.

When buying a company, phase one of any integration plan is to leave it alone and let it do what it does best as to not stop the train that is already running successfully. I believe step two of the integration plan is to use Tropo to improve Spark. One aspect of this is to make Spark something that developers can work with so you can enter the "rooms" and collaborate from other applications. Tropo could also bring functionality like SMS and PSTN dial-out to Spark.

Back to my earlier comment that CPaaS is a market set to explode, I think Cisco's acquisition of Tropo is a good proof point -- game on.