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Three takeaways from Cisco Partner Summit 2017

Cisco Partner Summit 2017 covered a lot of ground before wrapping up last week in Dallas. Here are three takeaways from the channel event:

Partners like a consistent strategy

Cisco’s focus on software and subscription-based offerings remained in force at the partner summit and the company also continued to emphasize its cybersecurity focus. Cisco, naturally, has new things to add to the mix such as intent-based networking, but the company’s overarching message to partners has been mostly consistent.

“The strategy has not changed,” said Jason Parry, vice president of client solutions at Force 3, a network security and IT solutions provider based in Crofton, Md. “From a partner perspective, that is a good thing. We don’t want to see a reset every partner summit.”

Multi-cloud is the path forward

The cloud is one area in which Cisco’s strategy has arguably wavered from its generally consistent path. The company launched Cisco Intercloud as a public cloud venture in 2014 and began shuttering that operation in December 2016. Since then, Cisco has positioned itself as an enabler of multi-cloud deployments and features partnerships with public cloud vendors. At Cisco Partner Summit 2017, Cisco highlighted an alliance with Google Cloud that aims to help customers develop applications in the cloud or in on-premises environments using the same tools. Cisco also maintains cloud alliances with providers such as Amazon Web Services, IBM and Microsoft. Cisco partners are likewise engaging with multiple cloud providers as they work with customers.

Vinu Thomas, CTO at Presidio Inc., an IT solutions provider based in New York, said customers “need a combination of on-premises private cloud and hyper-scale providers” and also use software as a service offerings such as Office 365 and WebEx. The partner’s role is to help customers “through the multi-cloud journey,” he added.

Cisco partners need a software strategy

At Cisco Partner Summit 2017, company officials frequently cited the programmability of its technology, the opportunity to leverage open APIs and the ability of channel partners to build their own intellectual property on top of the Cisco platform. As more Cisco networking functions move to software, the onus is on Cisco partners to cultivate software skills. World Wide Technology (WWT), a technology integrator based in St. Louis, for example, acquired a software development group, Asynchrony Inc., in 2015. Renamed Asynchrony Labs, the group has been working on various Cisco-related projects. Dean Romero, national practice director of software and lifecycle services at WWT, said the software development group creates new applications, streamlines existing apps, and also takes advantage of the open APIs that sit on Cisco’s Meraki platform and other offerings.

Even partners lacking an in-house development unit need a software approach when working with Cisco. As the vendor continues to promote software suites such as Cisco One, channel companies have an initial sales opportunity and an ongoing opportunity to make sure clients unlock the software’s potential over time. Cisco refers to this ongoing partner-client relationship as “land, adopt, expand and renew.”

In that sequence, Cisco partners, ideally, build upon the initial software use case to perhaps include other elements of the vendor’s portfolio — security, services and collaboration tools, for instance.

Scott Mohr, director of data center and cloud go-to-market in Cisco’s Global Partner Organization, said the company’s analysis shows partners can expect up to an 11x incremental opportunity for every dollar a customer spends on software.

But channel partners will probably need to revisit their service portfolios to achieve those kinds of results. Wendy Bahr, senior vice president, Global Partner Organization, at Cisco, said emerging fields from multi-cloud deployment to intent-based networking will require partners “to build new skills and new capabilities.”

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