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Cisco partners back software push, EA acceleration

Software development, simplicity and platforms are among the current channel watchwords at Cisco. Partners share their views on the vendor's latest initiatives.

Cisco partners are largely onboard with the vendor's software strategy and moves to simplify its product portfolio and channel program.

At last month's Cisco Partner Summit, company executives outlined its channel outreach plans, which include a focus on software and APIs, accelerated enterprise agreements (EAs) and a revamped Cisco Partner Program. Cisco also discussed implementing a platform strategy, which aims to group the company's plethora of management products into a smaller number of platforms.

Partners, which drive 90% of Cisco's sales, view the vendor's initiatives as steps in the right direction. Some programs remain works in progress, however, so channel companies must take a wait-and-see approach on those developments.

Software push continues

Cisco has emphasized software for a number of years, inviting partners to use its APIs to build their own IP on top of the company's increasingly software-based products. Signs point to increased momentum, as more partners pursue software development as part of their Cisco consulting practices.

Indeed, Cisco's DevNet, the company's developer program, has been making inroads within the partner community. About 400 partner companies employ people who have earned DevNet certifications. Seven channel companies, meanwhile, have obtained Cisco's DevNet Specialization for partner firms, as opposed to individually certified professionals. In an interview last month, Susie Wee, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco DevNet and CX Ecosystem Success, said 200 other partners are in the process of earning the DevNet Specialization, which Cisco unveiled in November 2019.

Andrew GilmanAndrew Gilman

One of those partners is NWN Corp., an MSP and Cisco partner based in Waltham, Mass. Andrew Gilman, head of marketing and alliances at NWN, said the company's pursuit of the DevNet Specialization marks a continuation of its software work with Cisco. NWN earlier this year rolled out a software offering, the Experience Management Platform (EMP), which uses Cisco technology.

"We leveraged DevNet and Cisco APIs," Gilman said. "Having well-documented APIs and resources is critical for our ability to build unique IP and experiences for our customers."

In developing EMP, NWN tapped Cisco APIs for performance monitoring, billing and cost allocation, and analytics reporting for unified communications.

Cisco's software push resonates with partners with backgrounds in development and integration.

Sean McDermottSean McDermott

"We've always been more interested in the software side of Cisco," said Sean McDermott, president and CEO at Windward Consulting Group, a company based in Herndon, Va., that specializes in AIOps and offers managed services. APIs let Windward integrate Cisco products with other third-party offerings.

InterVision Systems, an MSP and IT solution provider with headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., and St. Louis, has been using Cisco's APIs to incorporate the vendor's offerings into its own.

"There is a benefit to using Cisco APIs to intake their solutions into our custom MSP offering, which is our differentiation," said Jonathan Bunce, InterVision's senior director of strategic alliances.

Cisco's API focus dovetails with its platform strategy, according to Jason Parry, senior vice president of federal at Force 3, a networking and security solutions provider based in Crofton, Md. Cisco is providing APIs on top of its management product platforms, which include DNA Center, vManage, SecureX, AppDynamics, Meraki, Webex, Nexus Dashboard and Intersight. The task for Cisco partners is to harness Cisco's APIs and develop applications on those platforms.

We've always been more interested in the software side of Cisco.
Sean McDermottPresident and CEO, Windward Consulting Group

"You need to be able to write to the platforms," Parry noted. "Cisco has done a really good job of providing partners certification and training paths to get them exposed to those skills sets that are going to be required to do that."

Parry said quite a few of Force 3's Cisco engineers have learned development skills, but he noted the easier path has turned out to be training developers on networking technology. As the cross-training continues, the company blends traditional engineering and development teams.

"When both [teams] start to learn about each other's areas, it brings a common understanding," Parry said.

At Cisco Partner Summit, Todd Nightingale, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Enterprise Networking and Cloud business, said partners are already building automation suites and vertically specific applications using the APIs available on its platforms.

Cisco's platform strategy, in addition to encouraging IP development, makes Cisco's vast product set easier to consume.

Jonathan BunceJonathan Bunce

"The platform strategy is the way to go versus multiple point solutions that become overwhelming and confusing to clients," Bunce said. "Our view is that every SASE [secure access service edge] and security vendor should offer platforms of services that bundle the best of offerings into a single SKU for efficacy."

A faster EA process

Cisco's move to speed up the enterprise agreement process also has captured partners' attention. EAs consolidate multiple software subscriptions into a single agreement to simplify licensing. But partners said the process of creating enterprise agreements for customers has been time-consuming. Cisco said it has accelerated the quoting of EAs -- shrinking the process from weeks to days to hours.

"Partners have been asking for that for quite some time," Parry said of the accelerated EA process.

The speed-up stems from a tool called the EA Management Platform (EAMP), which automates the EA process. Cisco, meanwhile, has launched a parallel initiative -- dubbed Partner EA Scaling (PEAS) -- that lets qualified partners price and quote EAs autonomously using the EAMP. Cisco now has qualified EA partners set up with PEAS in all three of its geographies and will expand the program over the next year, according to a Cisco spokeswoman.

Jason ParryJason Parry

Giving partners leeway to quote EA deals on their own marks a break from past practices. Cisco "has been very involved in quoting and creating those agreements," Parry said. "The ability to quote those in a much faster way would absolutely be a huge benefit."

Quicker quoting will accelerate sales and put Force 3 in a better position to grow its EA-related business, Parry said.

Cisco's legacy EA process, Gilman said, compelled partners to work through various channels within Cisco to put a deal together. The updated process "is an order of magnitude faster," he added, noting that NWN is participating in the PEAS program.

New partner initiatives

Cisco also previewed a handful of partner initiatives at its annual summit, including an updated channel program built around four partner personae: Integrator, Provider, Developer and Advisor. The company will roll out the Cisco Partner Program's new structure over the next 12 to 18 months.

The four personae reflect "the ways different partners engage with their customers," Gilman said. NWN can play all four roles, depending on a customer's needs, he added. The company, for example, takes on the Developer persona when it builds its own IP and acts as a Provider when it delivers managed services.

The revised partner program will better support NWN's overall profitability and provide personae-specific resources, such as DevNet support and documentation for development-oriented partners, Gilman said.

In addition, Cisco's channel allies will soon be able to access the company's Partner Experience Platform, which is slated for availability Nov. 30. The platform unifies partner resources that were previously dispersed across Cisco. The vendor, over time, has accumulated various information silos, which have expanded with the acquisition of such companies as Meraki and AppDynamics, Gilman said. The platform consolidates those resources, making it easier for partners to access the information they need, he added.

Parry said Cisco's partner program evolution should prove interesting. "We are going to see how it affects partners, and does it truly make engaging with Cisco easier and simpler."

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