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As part of an effort to boost the application ecosystem surrounding its new unified communications-as-a-service offering, Cisco at the Enterprise Connect 2016 conference announced it is making $150 million available to either directly invest in an application developer or help jointly develop and support an application.

Cisco also announced that is has acquired Synata, which created tools that make it easier to search for content across rooms in the Cisco Spark unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) cloud service that is now generally available.

As a relatively late entrant into the UCaaS segment, Cisco is now looking to partners to help drive usage of its Spark service, said Thomas McCafferty, senior director of product marketing for collaboration infrastructure. While Cisco expects much of the use of Spark to still come via its user interface, the company created open Spark APIs to help drive the development of third-party applications that will embed UCaaS functionality provided by Cisco, McCafferty said.

That’s crucial for mobile applications that are aimed at invoking a backend UCaaS to enhance the overall user experience, McCafferty added. “We want to make it simple for an end user to click on an icon to invoke the service. The cloud helps simplify the purchasing and packaging of these services.

Shawn O’Brien, inside sales manager for LookingPoint, a longtime Cisco partner, said simplifying the sales cycle of UC has become critical. Instead of setting up complicated proofs-of-concept using a UC technology that gets deployed on premise, Spark now just gives customers instant access to a 30-day free trial, he explained. “Spark really changes the sales cycle. It’s now a whole lot quicker.”

Expanding the overall Spark ecosystem is critical because it increases the number of UC applications that LookingPoint might be able to resell, O’Brien said.

While UC always represented an opportunity for Cisco partners to sell additional services, the complexity of installing the technology on premise limited adoption. Now that Cisco has its own UCaaS offering, it’s clear that motivating the channel to sell an enterprise-grade service that provides a more secure user experience is a major part of the company’s cloud strategy.

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.