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To the Cloud: Why We’ve Moved to an API-Based Architecture – Part 1: Content as a Service

- January 7, 2015 - 0 Comments

This is part 1 in a 2-part series about our API-based architecture. In part 2 I’ll talk about the advantages of identity as a service and data as a service.

Before the cloud, applications had a web interface that connected to a back-end database. Each application authorized its own users.

Today, that monolithic application architecture is going the way of dinosaurs. Cisco employees use more than 400 cloud services. So even after we added single sign-on for Cisco applications, users still had to separately sign on to cloud applications like Salesforce. Not a good use of time.

Cisco IT wanted to make the cloud user experience simpler, smarter, and more secure. Our idea was to build shared application services, such as a common identity layer and a single source of truth for content.

Our First Intercloud Application: Content as a Service for Sellers
We got our opportunity to try out the services-based architecture when the Cisco Sales Enablement Team asked for a better way for Cisco sellers and partners to find product information. The problem was too much a good thing: sales and marketing content. In fact, we had so much content, in so many places, that a seller looking for five pieces typically spent 17 minutes searching. Not only that, but they often gave up before finding everything they were after.

Today, sellers find the sales and marketing content they need in an average of three minutes. The difference is an intercloud solution called SalesConnect, our first platform built exclusively on an API-based architecture. SalesConnect provides personalized content recommendations based on a variety of factors. It has components in multiple private and public clouds (see figure).

Figure 1: SalesConnect Brings Together Content and Services from Multiple Clouds

api-arch-cloud-jan15

Cisco partners and internal sales teams access SalesConnect using a mobile app. SalesConnect knows the seller’s sales opportunities by sending API calls to Salesforce (for Cisco sellers) or our commerce portal (for partners). Content recommendations depend on the stage in the sales cycle. Early on, recommended content might include white papers and presentations. Later it might include configuration information.

If a seller searches for a particular product, SalesConnect bases content recommendations on metadata tags, popularity, user ratings, and requests from Cisco teams to promote certain content. So, a seller who receives a last-minute request for a presentation on our Identity Services Engine doesn’t need to sift through dozens or hundreds of pieces, wondering which ones are the most current. Instead the search brings up a curated kit containing a business-oriented presentation, technical presentation, and a white paper and case studies to leave behind. One click saves the content to a briefcase that the seller can access when offline.

Shared Services Architecture
We built SalesConnect using open-source tools and shared services. It retrieves data from back-end systems using API calls. Any application, on any type of device, can consume data that’s anywhere on the Internet, through the same simple APIs. As a result, we can very quickly add new capabilities as business needs and user expectations change. For example, we plan to add one-click connection to experts, with instant messaging, voice, or a Cisco Web session. Data as a service will help sellers spot opportunities to renew services contracts. Analytics as a service will provide discount recommendations as well as cross-selling and upselling opportunities.

More Productive Sellers, High User Satisfaction
As of October 2014, 14,000 Cisco sellers and partners from 130 countries had used SalesConnect at least once. Here’s a typical comment, from a Cisco regional manager in the Asia Pacific region: “We had a conversation about Cisco Unified Communications compared to a competitor, and towards the end of the conversation, the customer asked, ‘You got any whitepapers?’ I went straight into SalesConnect, searched on the competitor, found a white paper, and sent it to the customer. While still in the meeting. It’s brilliant! It’s the best search app that I’ve seen Cisco produce.”

Reusable Services Leads to “Fast IT”
We’ll use the same shared services we developed for SalesConnect to build other xRM applications. It’s part of our move to what we’re calling Fast IT, a program to make IT infrastructure simpler, more flexible, and more secure.

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