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Trollope on Tropo: 'A Platform Play'

Cisco announced this morning its intent to acquire cloud API platform provider Tropo, which is seen as a strategic move to boost development of UC-based, communications-enabled applications. Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst with ZK Research, hit on all the main points around this news in a No Jitter article published earlier today. I also had the opportunity to talk to Cisco's SVP of collaboration, Rowan Trollope, to get a bit of extra insight into the strategy behind the acquisition and what it means for Cisco at large. Here's a breakdown of what I found out:

"A couple of years ago when I hired Jonathan Rosenberg [as collaboration VP and CTO], the mission that we set about was to build this communications platform-as-a-service," Trollope said.

Since Cisco just acquired Tropo, it has yet to put a formal timeline in place for an integration with the Cisco Collaboration Cloud platform. Cisco's intention has always been to build its cloud platform in an open way, with open APIs, Trollope said. Anytime you build a platform, you need to have an app to drive it, he added -- in Cisco's case, Spark is the app driving the platform.

While Cisco built the Spark collaboration app on the cloud platform, it hasn't opened up the APIs for that yet. The Tropo team is likely to help Cisco accelerate that process. About 200,000 developers work with the Tropo platform, and they are going to be a key asset in helping Cisco build a true Spark platform, Trollope said.

Cisco approaches acquisitions from an angle of bringing in new talent and skills -- at least in part -- and recent acquisitions have been about securing new talent particularly around cloud and software.

"This acquisition is very much in line with that strategy. We're picking up a team that's ... first in cloud and building a cloud platform. And it's more than just about the software, it's also about the things that go around it -- the community building, the events, the developer support, the documentation, the API, the management of those -- this is a company that really understands developers and understands how to build developer platforms. Getting that DNA into my team is really very critical."

Cisco sees tremendous opportunity to do two things with this acquisition, Trollope said. First, to embed high-quality, rich collaboration modalities like voice, video, text, and content sharing into business applications. The other opportunity is to extend the Cisco Collaboration Cloud, which will provide a way for developers to then extend the Spark app and ecosystem.

"If it was just about another app, we wouldn't be focused on platforms so much," he said. "So this really is a platform play."

When I asked Trollope whether this acquisition would have any implication for Cisco's legacy VoIP business, his answer was a clear, "No." He emphasized that the company's strategy is all about extending its existing businesses by making applications more powerful, and extending the value of investments its customers have already made.

"That's not the main reason for doing it," he said. "The main reason for doing it is because that's the way the world is moving. But we think we can uniquely differentiate by providing connectors from our existing assets to the new stuff."

As an example, Trollope talked about the concept of UC Fusion, which he defines as the ability to take a Cisco Call Manager and connect it to Cisco's cloud. This allows telephones on existing premises networks to become smart by being imbued with knowledge from the cloud and vice versa. This is an existing strategy Cisco already had in place with Spark, and is not specific to Tropo, he added. With Tropo, it's really about the platform and the front end of that platform for developers who want to work with Cisco.

"I think it's fair to say that with $54 billion in the bank, you can buy anyone you want," Trollope said when I asked why Tropo caught Cisco's eye over other CPaaS providers. With that sort of cash, it would seem that Cisco truly did have its choice, but Trollope explained the rationale for this acquisition.

First and foremost, it's about the Tropo team, he said. "We felt like they had the deepest technical abilities on their team that were synergistic to what we had. They have some of the best folks in the world that are very passionate about this space."

Second, the technology Tropo has built is second to none, he said. Things are clearly heating up in this space, he added, referencing Twilio's billion-dollar valuation that took place earlier this week as evidence of the high level of interest in this market.

"[Tropo] had a strategy that let us offer a pure cloud service," Trollope said, "but also to have a service that could be integrated directly with service providers' networks. So they're integrated with AT&T, with China Telecom, Deutsche Telekom -- they're integrated with all these major SPs around the world."

That allows them to do things that no one else can do, he said. AT&T, for example, has an offer that lets you pick your phone number and then write an app that gets called whenever that number rings. A use case for this would be, say, at a financial services firm that wants to log all calls between traders. They would not have to switch anything; they would just turn on the call logging application and it would tie right into the mobile network, Trollope explained.

"[Tropo's technology] is very complementary to what we already had," he said. "There's not a whole lot of overlap between what we've been doing with Spark and what they've been doing with their platform."

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