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Cisco Spark creates developer fund for custom apps

At Enterprise Connect, Cisco announced a $150 million fund to invest in developers who build custom apps using the Cisco Spark collaboration service.

ORLANDO, FLA. -- Cisco has invested $150 million in a developer fund to broaden its UC platform Cisco Spark. Dubbed the Cisco Spark Innovation Fund, it will invest in developers who use Cisco Spark APIs to build custom apps into their everyday business processes.

The idea behind the fund is to "amp up a developer ecosystem," encouraging custom app development through direct investment and joint development, said Ross Daniels, senior director of collaboration marketing at Cisco.

Spark developments

Spark for Developers, a platform released in December 2015, provides open APIs so developers can create custom apps that extend Spark. Companies can use Spark APIs to build custom apps into their daily workflows. Developers get access to the full API set to create integrations or their own applications in Spark.

One example is Tagnos, a healthcare technology company, which used Cisco's open APIs to create an application that can shorten hospital patient wait times. Tagnos also tied Spark and Internet of Things into medical devices, Daniels said. For instance, if an MRI machine malfunctions, nurses receive a notification in Spark.

About 10,000 new developers signed up in the first month for the Spark API developer program, according to Daniels. Cisco has not seen that many developer sign-ups for any of its other products, he added.

Via the new Cisco Spark Fund, developers can start submitting their application ideas to Cisco for review and potential funding. The investment in the Cisco Spark ecosystem is a partnership with Cisco Investments, the corporate venture-capital arm of Cisco Systems.

With Cisco Spark, companies buy messaging, meeting and calling services from the cloud in a subscription model, paying monthly for services per user.

Slack fund not mere competition

The announcement, made at Enterprise Connect in Orlando, Fla., comes nearly three months after the messaging service Slack announced a similar $80 million fund for developers who build integrated custom applications.

"[Slack is] a real competitor for us," Daniels said, "there's no doubt about that."

A competitor perhaps but Spark's new endeavor is more than a competitive reaction, said Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst at ZK Research. "Cisco considers Spark to be more of a platform than a product," he said, "and they want developers to leverage it to build Spark-enabled applications.  By committing the $150M, Cisco is 'priming the pump,' ... trying to have a number of examples of 'what's possible' built quickly."

Will it work? "I think it's the right thing to do," Kerravala said, "and if it's successful, I believe we will see Cisco commit more money to it."

In December 2015, Cisco announced significant updates to Spark as the team collaboration app grew into a full-fledged cloud-based UC platform. At Enterprise Connect 2016, Cisco said that as of today, companies in the U.S. can get all three services that make up Cisco Spark: message, meeting and call, while two of the components -- message and meeting -- are available in 30 countries.

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