Cisco to Buy Tropo to Build Out Collaboration Portfolio

Tropo's cloud API platform enables developers and businesses to embed real-time communications into their applications.

Cisco Spark

Cisco Systems is looking to add to its collaboration capabilities by acquiring Tropo, a company that offers a cloud API platform designed to make it easy for developers to put communications into their applications.

Being able to embed real-time communications into applications is becoming increasingly important given the rise of such tends as IT mobility, cloud computing and the Internet of things (IoT), which are helping fuel the growing demand from businesses and individuals alike for the ability to communicate from anywhere and on any device via the cloud, according to Cisco officials.

"The need for next-generation communications and collaboration platforms with modern, easy-to-use APIs is more important than ever," Hilton Romanski, senior vice president and head of business development at Cisco, said in a post on the company blog May 7. "Helping people connect, engage and innovate on any device, Cisco and Tropo will provide a collaboration platform-as-a-service, which allows our customers and developers to create and sell new communications services with minimal development effort."

The deal, which was announced May 7, is expected to close during Cisco's fiscal fourth quarter. No financial details were disclosed. After the deal closes, Tropo employees will join Cisco's Collaboration Technology Group.

Cisco's acquisition of the 6-year-old Tropo comes as the trend in both the unified communications (UC) and video conferencing spaces is toward more software- and cloud-based solutions. In a report last year, analysts at Markets and Research said they expect the global UC market to hit $75.8 billion by 2020, and that it will continue to shift from on-premises systems—which in 2013 made up more than 60 percent of the space—to cloud-based solutions, which are easier and less expensive to deploy and maintain.

Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research, said earlier this year that research he has done found that about 82 percent of companies want some kind of hybrid cloud solution—which encompasses both on-premises and cloud-based environments—to enable greater flexibility in their communications.

Vendors like Cisco, Avaya, ShoreTel, IBM and Microsoft are building out their portfolios to offer customers the option of cloud- and software-based collaboration technologies. Cisco in November 2014 introduced Project Squared, which includes a broad array of collaboration technologies—such as WebEx—and is designed to offer consumer-level ease of use coupled with enterprise-class security, manageability and support. The initiative was renamed Spark in March.

A key to UC adoption is ease of use, something Cisco is focusing on, Romanski wrote.

"Cisco has been on a mission to make collaboration super-simple," he wrote. "From our video devices that require no user's manual, to our cameras that sense and automatically adjust when the speaker suddenly stands and walks to the white board, we're paying attention to the details; we're making collaborating less frustrating and providing a better user experience."

Tropo offers a range of APIs and has a development network that includes more than 200,000 programmers, according to Romanski. For the smaller company, the deal with Cisco is about scale and timing, according to Johnny Diggz, technology evangelist for Tropo.

"From Enterprise to Service Providers, Cisco is hands down the most well respected brand in voice and video; and with their recent introduction of Spark, they are gearing up to put ultra high-quality video and collaboration tools into the pockets of every remote team, class room, space station and home office," Diggz wrote in a post on the company blog, noting that he expects most Tropo products to continue. "If we slap an API on even half this stuff you're all in for a serious treat!"

According to Cisco, developers will be able to leverage Tropo's technology to create applications that can be integrated into the service providers' existing communications infrastructures, which will help the service providers push back at over-the-top (OTT) technology vendors. Enterprises will be able to build applications that can reach users via voice and SMS.