Cisco Snags Tropo Communications Development Platform

When you think of Cisco, it’s easy to pigeon-hole them as a networking equipment company, but Cisco also has a communications and collaboration side that includes WebEx. Today, it announced its intent to buy Tropo, a Twilio-like communications platform for adding telephony, messaging and other communications tools to any application.

As I wrote yesterday, APIs are making it simpler for developers to add a range of functionality to applications very quickly and one function developers love to include is an ability to communicate. At the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon last weekend, many of the applications included the ability to trigger a text message when something important happened in the application.

Twilio is probably the best known of the communications APIs, but buying Tropo gives Cisco immediate access to a community of more than 200,000 developers (according to numbers provided by Cisco). Tropo offers its product for free to developers, and then makes money from each communication made via the Tropo platform. It’s unclear if Cisco will continue to use the same pricing model.

Tropo workflow chart.

Tropo’s team will join the Cisco Collaboration and Communications Group. The tricky part here is not only incorporating a team that’s been independent into a large organization without sucking the spirit out of it, it also needs to incorporate a loyal community and try to keep it going without alienating them. That’s the challenge large companies face when they buy developer tools like this.

It’s the same type of challenge that IBM faces after purchasing the AlchemyAPI earlier this year. It too was a tool with a large loyal community being purchased by a large traditional IT vendor.

In a blog post welcoming the Tropo team, Cisco indicated that it certainly believes it can do just that. “Together, we will help extend the Cisco platform to third party endpoints and applications via modern APIs and enable Cisco to better serve the developer community.” Ultimately though, that’s a goal more than a statement of fact.

This purchase gives Cisco a platform to attract developers to its wider ecosystem, and that’s important for a mature company like Cisco, trying to avoid the brutality of disruption.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.