Has Cisco Finally Gotten Cisco Developer Right?
This is an area where Cisco has really struggled over the past decade, but the company is at least talking the right talk right now.
Earlier this month Cisco held its annual Collaboration Summit and made sure the Cius tablet was front and center at the event. Many of the Cisco employees were carrying the tablet and many of the partners that were in the expo hall used the Cius as a method of demonstrating their products. While I think Cisco has done a good job with the design and positioning of the corporate first tablet, its ultimate success will be determined by the applications that can run on it. This requires building a quality developer program that makes it easy and worthwhile for developers to build applications for the tablet. This is an area where Cisco has really struggled over the past decade, but it appears now that Cisco Developer Network (CDN) is headed in the right direction.
The concept of the developer network isn't foreign to Cisco. It's something they've tried for years in a number of product categories. Cisco’s first attempt at a developer program was something called CTDP (Cisco Technology Developer Program) that was started when Cisco acquired a company called Metreos. Metreos can be thought of as a middleware development layer that sat above the VoIP infrastructure and allowed third party software companies and in house developers to build applications to run on Cisco IP phones. The concept was right but the execution was poor. Many of the developers I interviewed at the time wanted to work with Cisco because of the company's market leading share in IP telephony, but complained about how Cisco continually changed APIs without any warning to the developers, had inconsistent testing methodology which was also expensive, and didn't really do much to help the ISVs promote their software products. So this limited the appeal of CTDP to a few niche ISVs and in house developers.
Since then Cisco has had other attempts to build a developer environment with other products including Application eXchange Program (AXP) for its router based servers, Mobile Service Engine (MSE), and other developer environments for WebEx and VoIP. Each of them had small degrees of success but nothing that would move the needle for Cisco. Of all the companies in the VoIP space, I think Avaya has done the best job of building a developer environment. Under Eric Rossman's leadership, Avaya's DevConnect program has grown to well over a couple of thousand developers, and the addition of ACE (from Nortel) gives Avaya a great platform to leverage as well. The developer pull-through will bode well for Avaya over the long haul.
From my conversations with Cisco people and the software partners that were at the Collaboration Summit, it appears that Cisco has revamped CDN yet again. This time though, it appears Cisco has learned from the past and is doing it right. In actuality, it appears that the program is primarily focused on attracting Android developers for the Cius tablet. One of the Cisco execs I talked to told me that somewhere between 80% to 90% of the developers that are part of CDN are Cius focused.
The biggest improvements I've noticed are the following:
* Cius allows Cisco to attract a focused, established developer community. There are tens of thousands of Android developers in the market today. Cisco just needs to find the ones that understand the needs of corporate buyers and can leverage the Cius's embedded security and collaboration features. But this tasks is easier and faster than building a developer environment from scratch. * Cisco is willing to give developers access to pre-release versions of the operating system and other applications. This has been hit or miss at Cisco over the years. With earlier versions of CTDP and with some of the other programs, Cisco would only provide production code to developers. The problem with this approach is that when a new version of a platform is released, there is no software to run on it since the developers only work with production code.
* The testing, support and upgrades of software are now consistent. This was one of the huge complaints from software vendors in the past. Cisco would change the structure of APIs, testing methodology and cost of testing with no real process. This would lead to developer frustration, but Cisco does appear to have brought a level of consistency to the program.
The biggest change that Cisco needs to make, though, has yet to be seen. If Cisco is going to be successful with Cius, it needs to be willing to be ecosystem-led. For years, Cisco has had a huge ecosystem around it of system integrators, tool vendors and other companies that add value to Cisco. In this case, though, Cisco owns the customer relationship and the ecosystem supports Cisco.
If a customer buys a Cius-based application, the application is really what the customer wants. Cisco gets pulled through because the Cius is the tablet the application runs on, but the independent software vendor would be the primary interface to the customer. That's the difference of being ecosystem-led versus ecosystem-supported.
Only time will tell whether Cisco has the right mindset to really leverage CDN but the company is at least talking the right talk right now and that's much improved from a couple of years ago.