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As a class of technologies, communications software offered a lot of promise, but the complexities associated with deploying these products on-premise tended to limit adoption. With the rise of the cloud, however, it’s now possible to routinely invoke communications software as a service.

Less clear now is whether those services will be primarily invoked via a standard user interface or within the context of another app that is making use of an API to embed communications capabilities within that app.

An example of the latter is the recently launched Cisco Spark cloud service that delivers messaging, collaboration and telephony services as a cloud service. As much as Cisco would like end users to invoke that service directly, Cisco also made certain that it exposed a set of open APIs that would make that service accessible to developers via a Cisco Spark for Developers program.

One of the first third-party companies to take advantage of those open APIs is, provider of Flow software, that takes advantage of APIs and modern open-source WebHooks tools to build workflows across multiple applications using a set of graphical tools deployed in the cloud that makes it simple to build those apps.

Kurt Collins, developer evangelist for, said the end goal is to enable developers to create complex integrations across multiple applications on the fly. The open Cisco Spark APIs will enable developers to more easily embed communication services within those apps, he said.

“Cisco Spark is a team collaboration platform,” Collins said. “ Flow makes those capabilities accessible to developers.”

That accessibility should prove critical for solution providers across the channel. Rather than having to hire expensive developers to master lower-level APIs, Collins said, is designed to enable “power users” and consultants to visually program workflow apps that can be tailored to meet the specific needs of any organization.

Cisco is not the only provider of communications services to open its APIs. But it is making a concerted effort to make it possible to embed those capabilities inside workflow apps that solution providers across the channel can now more easily craft using higher-level tools. As that trend continues to evolve in the coming year, the opportunities for solution providers to create unique value for their customers in the age of the cloud service are about to increase substantially.

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for more than 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.