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How Cisco will use newly acquired Tropo to accelerate the cPaaS market

Cisco Collaboration Summit 2015
Credit: Stephen Lawson

With Cisco's annual Collaboration Summit just ahead, here's a look at the unique position Cisco finds itself in with the newly acquired Tropo.

Cisco's annual Collaboration Summit is being held next week in San Francisco (disclosure: Cisco is a client of ZK Research). This event is always interesting, as it highlights the latest and greatest Cisco collaboration technology. I fully expect Cisco's Workstream Communications and Collaboration product, Spark, to capture most of the headlines given the strong marketing push from Cisco this year.

However, there's another product that I'm hoping Cisco will provide details on, and that's Tropo. If you're not familiar with Tropo, the company is one of many communication platform-as-a-service (cPaaS) providers that enable developers to add UC capabilities such as messaging and voice capabilities to applications. While the UC vendors have made these capabilities available for a number of years, Tropo and its competitive peers (Plivo, Twilio, Nexmo, etc.) offer this functionality from the cloud, meaning there is no equipment to buy, rack, stack, and maintain. Cisco announced its intent to acquire Tropo earlier this year to move into this market.

As I mentioned, there are a number of other cPaaS providers out there, but Tropo does have some unique differentiators:

  • Advanced features, such as voice recognition, hosting, and speech in 24 languages.
  • A unified API for voice, SMS, and conferencing functions (Other platforms have individual APIs for each function).
  • Free support. Tropo offers 24/7 support to everyone for every aspect of application development. Paying customers will get responses in minutes, while non-paying customers will receive a response from an experienced developer in a few hours.
  • High-performance cloud platform. Tropo was built to scale, where developers can use the platform for applications that require multiple, simultaneous calls, messages or conference participants.

Cisco's acquisition of Tropo legitimizes and should accelerate adoption of cPaaS, a market that has been dominated by startups, with Twilio being the largest and best-known. Obviously, Cisco didn't drop the money on Tropo purely to advance the industry – they did it to put themselves in a leadership position. The combination of Cisco and Tropo should provide a number of key advantages:

  • Global availability through Cisco's reseller network. Cisco has, by far, the largest number of channel partners in the networking industry and one of the largest in the IT industry. The company can leverage its massive base of partners to make Tropo-based solutions available anywhere in the world.
  • Deeper carrier relationships. All of the cPaaS vendors have been building relationships with network service providers over the past five years. However, Cisco has been a key strategic partner to carriers of all sizes for more than 20 years. The company can use these relationships to better leverage Tropo's unique network integration capabilities and expand the availability of these features.
  • Expand Tropo's developer community with DevNet. Building a large community of ISVs and developer partners is one of the most important elements in the growth of the cPaaS business. Tropo already has relationships with hundreds of thousands of developers. Combining Tropo's developer program with Cisco's own DevNet developer program can create scale that can't be matched by any other cPaaS or other UC solution providers.
  • Accelerate the product roadmap of Cisco's other cloud products. Cisco has a number of cloud UC products, such as Cisco Spark and Cisco WebEx. Cisco should be able to leverage Tropo to bring new functionality to its existing cloud products quickly.
  • Create unique UC experiences for Cisco customers. By combining the strengths of Tropo, CallManager, Spark, WebEx, and TelePresence, the company can create seamless integration across all of its products to bring new experiences to its customers.
  • Prime the cPaaS pump and build a bank of case studies. No UC, cPaaS, or network vendor has the level of business process knowledge that Cisco has. Through its consulting organization and relationships with systems integrators, Cisco can work jointly with the top digital organizations to co-create new applications that leverage the cloud API platform. This can bring new ideas to customers and software vendors of all sizes and effectively “prime the pump” for the entire cPaaS market.
  • Improve the security of cPaaS solutions. One of the biggest inhibitors to cloud application development is security. Cisco is one of the largest security vendors in the industry, and it can utilize its in-depth knowledge of cybersecurity and threat prevention to integrate security into the Tropo platform.

It's been my belief for a number of years that UC needs to evolve away from being product-centric and become platform-centric. Users don't need more applications, they need the applications they have to have more integrated functionality, particularly when mobile. Cisco, combined with Tropo, should make the reality of UC-enabled applications happen faster.

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