Cisco Systems is enlisting partners in its efforts to grow the use of chat bots on its Spark collaboration platform, an area in the enterprise communications space that is gaining more attention from such top-tier vendors as Microsoft and Facebook.
Cisco is teaming up with Gupshup, which builds bot platforms, and natural language technology vendor API.ai that will enable developers to more easily bring bot capabilities to the networking vendor's Spark and Tropo platforms. Cisco officials made the announcement July 11 during the opening day of the company's Cisco Live 2016 event in Las Vegas.
Chat bots are applications that users can interact with, such as Apple's Siri. Organizations now also are looking for the capability in their enterprise communications environments, where employees can engage with bots to conduct such tasks as checking on the status of projects, listing meeting agenda items and booking conference rooms.
Cisco is turning to partners to build bots for the Spark platform, which the company has expanded rapidly since it was first introduced in 2014 as a mobile communications app code-named Project Squared. Spark now is a platform that delivers unified communications (UC) services via the cloud. Bots will play an important role in the platform, according to Cisco officials.
"Transforming the collaboration experience is about bringing people together, giving them quick access to critical information and the ability to share and communicate in real-time," Jason Goecke, general manager of Cisco's Tropo Business Unit, said in a statement. "Providing our customers and developers access to Gupshup's intuitive bot platform will create customizable experiences that enhance Cisco Spark's capabilities."
Gupshup gained traction in the communications space in India with an SMS social network and by growing into an enterprise platform that handles more than 4 billion messages a month and has 30,000 developers writing for it. The company also has APIs that developers can use to build interactive and omni-channel messaging bots and services.
Its partners include Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and eBay.
"Chatbots are quickly transforming the way we use computers, providing a simpler, easier and conversational interface to advanced services," Gupshup CEO Beerud Sheth said in a statement. "Working with Cisco has made it possible for us to expose the enterprise to bots, which will soon transform virtually every business workflow."
API.ai offers natural language technology that can be used in apps, devices and services, and will integrate that technology with Cisco's Spark and Tropo communications platforms. Through the integration, developers can create bots and other interfaces for Spark and Tropo that can understand natural language and respond in real-time. Tropo includes cloud-based APIs for voice and messaging, while Spark is a cloud collaboration platform that offers messaging, meeting and calling capabilities, and includes open APIs and software-development kits (SDKs).
Redbooth, which offers an all-in-one project management and collaboration platform, is taking advantage of the partnership by integrating with Spark and leveraging the API.ai commands to manage Redbooth-based projects from Spark messaging streams, officials said.
"API.ai's capability to provide natural language understanding and sophisticated conversational interfaces are a perfect match for enterprise developers building bots and collaborative communication solutions," company CEO Ilya Gelfenbeyn said in a statement.
Cisco's partnership strategy comes as more vendors—such as Slack, Microsoft's Skype and Facebook's Messenger—are bringing bots into their communications solutions. Cisco already is partnering with IBM to bring together Big Blue's Watson cognitive computing technology and Cisco's collaboration tools and with Apple to more tightly integrate Apple's iOS mobile operating system with Spark and WebEx.
Earlier this year Cisco announced a $150 million fund—the Cisco Spark Innovation Fund—to encourage developers to create apps for the collaboration platform, including bots.