Understanding the value of specialisation
“The era of the general physician is over,” mentions Frida Kleimert Knibbs, Head of Channels and Commercial East Region, Cisco Middle East, managing five countries including UAE, Oman, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan. With the fast changing technology life cycle dynamics as well IT purchasing decisions, one of the first initiatives inside the Cisco partner programme has been to take a reality check between the number of certified partners and the market opportunities and market demands. Market opportunities for channel partners appear to be more favourable for those moving towards focus and specialisation, rather than partners who share the same qualifications and therefore end up competing with each other in overlapping opportunities
Cisco’s current initiative is to get partners to specialise across a much broader range of Advanced Specialisations. This gives partners a two-fold benefit. One they will tend to much less compete with each other and the second is they will be able to capture market opportunities better, if they are more distributed. Relooking at the specialisations of partners is also linked to the number of Cisco partners in each of these partner programme segments.
“I noticed we had a lot of partners, a lot of gold and premier partners, hundreds of select and registered partners. I was looking for this difference to create a value for each partner and each customer, and not having too many of the same and gaps,” explains Frida. The emphasis is therefore to convert many of the generalist partners into specialists so they straddle market opportunities better and complete less with each other. Since Gold partners require a minimum volume of deal opportunities, with spending budgets shrinking in traditional IT projects, they are likely to get better returns in moving to other areas of specialisations that may not have been tapped before.
“We still have these gaps in the market. My call to the market is, if you go more specialised you will not all be doing the same sort of project and you can add your value as a partner in the special area,” she elaborates.
In other words, the current effort by Cisco is to get a better rationalisation between the capability of the partner, the partners go to market investment, and the right Cisco specialisation area. Cisco is itself moving away from kits and products into services, recurring revenue, software, and that requires a level of intimacy, with the industry and technology solution providers. “So we are trying to give the right tool box to the right partner.”
Another disruption in the end user market is the discussion on business outcomes with channel partners within any IT project. This makes the emphasis on end-to-end specialisation of channel partners more important and they are now expected to provide the full stack of components in the solution, in which the Cisco part may only be one amongst many. In the past, Cisco may have encouraged its channel partners to adopt a more broad based, multiple specialisation approach, and may have chosen to ignore highly specialised partners as not fitting into its overall partner programme structure. However, that is changing now.
“Cisco needs its partners to deliver the whole outcome to the customer,” is the current benchmark for qualification.
- Cisco needs its partners to deliver the whole outcome to the customer
- Era of the general physician is over
- If you go more specialised you will not all be doing the same sort of project
- Installed base of networking that partners sit on is a huge door opener
- Looking for this difference to create value for each partner and each customer
- Not having too many of the same and gaps
- Still have these gaps in the market
- To make the network agile you will need to go through an analysis
- Trying to give the right tool box to the right partner
- We had a lot of partners, lot of gold and premier partners
- You can add your value as a partner in a special area
Within Cisco the responsibility for onboarding specialised channel partners is now with partner account managers. Previously Cisco partner account managers used to manage both specialised and generalised channel partners. But now some of the channel partners are being managed by Cisco distributors allowing partner account managers to increasingly focus on specialised channel partners. “This has helped Cisco take a bet on partners that want to be partners and not want to be only resellers.”
Over the last few years Cisco has also put the same emphasis on its tier-one distribution partners. It has extended certification programmes to its distributors, getting them to specialise and hence straddle different parts of regional market opportunities, distancing competition from each other. With this, Cisco distributors are also expected to take a up a significant amount of workload from new onboarded channel partners including pre-sales, proof of concept, integration, and services.
Cisco also recently undertook feedback from channel partners on areas where they wanted Cisco to help them build the solution stack along with distributors. They identified datacentre security and solutions for retail, hospitality, collaboration. Cisco is now working with multiple vendors including NetApp, Citrix, RedHat, Purple Wifi, IQ Wifi, to build these solutions stacks for channel partners.
Cisco has also identified other opportunity areas for channel partners that are providing significant returns or can provide returns. These include upgradation of the vast Cisco installed base of network and security products with end users, its recent alliance with Meraki, and its cloud solution stack, amongst others.
“The installed base of networking that partners sit on is a huge door opener for these areas. As a partner, you cannot not be agile on these fronts for old infrastructure. To make the network agile and digital you will need to go through an analysis of the current equipment, and this is the big door opener for the partner,” stresses Frida.
However, on an overall basis, the glue is still in three areas: embedded security, embedded software applications, and services. These are the opportunities for partners that Cisco is enabling.
Cisco’s global channel partner programme certifications are categorised as: Select, Premier, Gold, Multinational, Global. Its technology specialisations for partners are categorised as: Express, Advanced and Masters. It also has a list of Retired specialisations. Its tier-one distributor partners in UAE, Oman, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan include Aptec Ingram Micro, Comstor, Logicom.