Adding APIs will not revive your business
Unify announced the availability of APIs for their Circuit collaboration platform opening it for the general public of developers. Their target is to have developers build extensions to Circuit and integrate the Circuit collaboration capabilities into their existing services.
Circuit is a hosted collaboration platform for enterprises that is based on WebRTC. You can safely view it as one of those UC platforms but a fresher and more modern one that is based on WebRTC.
This is not the first time we see closed WebRTC based collaboration platforms in the cloud open up for developers. Bistri has done a complete shift moving from a collaboration service platform for enterprises to PaaS for developers.
Avaya made APIs available for developers to write snap-ins for their Engagement Development Platform (previously called Collaboration Environment) hoping developers will build extensions to the Avaya system and sell them on the Avaya Snap-In Marketplace.
I have doubts with regards to the success of these 2 initiatives. Didn’t hear of too many services built based on the Bistri APIs and the Avaya snap-ins haven’t been a smashing success as snap-ins are mainly built by Avaya themselves of partners who are already committed to the platform.
The Unify Circuit announced API platform is kind of in-between these 2 examples as the focus of Circuit is still on their end user enterprise customers, they didn’t do the complete shift to PaaS for developers and… they offer their platform as a hosted one only.
What drives this shift?
What drives companies to make this kind of shift and does it pay off?
My take on these 3 cases is that the shift wasn’t done as a pre-planned product capability and strategy because if this was the case, it should have been in the core of the product from day 1 as they are part of the business strategy. I would guess that APIs were added or opened to the public as a business necessity hoping it will create a shift in customer acquisition and revenue generation (meaning solve their business problems).
Opening systems and making them accessible through web APIs is not a nice to have option but a necessity. BUT, it doesn’t mean that this is going to be the remedy for the business issues a company has selling their current offering.
APIs are chicken and egg
If a solution is not selling in large numbers relative to other similar solutions offered on the market there is no reason for developers to invest in building extensions to it as they have better alternatives to monetize their development efforts. Think Windows mobile and why developers first develop for iOS and Android and only later, a few of them go also for Windows.
APIs are important so customers and systems integrators can make better use of the platform and integrate it with other applications used by the enterprise.
APIs added as an afterthought and hope to boost up sales usually end up as a failure as there isn’t a community of developers to build upon.
The UC and UC as a service market is a crowded one. There are several incumbent elephants (Avaya, Cisco, Microsoft) and with WebRTC lowering the barrier to entry, many smaller players have joined the competition over enterprise customers.
These companies are all trying to compete with pretty much a similar offering but new players of team collaboration platforms are challenging them with a new approach and offering.
UC vendors need to reinvent themselves and abandon the term UC as we know it. They need to offer a better solution for team collaboration. If they will not, others will take care of it for them, or maybe they already do.
With Circuit, Unify has done significant efforts towards this direction, not because they opened their APIs to the public but rather because of the functionality and positioning of their service.