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Cisco specializations get streamlined amid program changes

At Cisco Partner Summit 2017, the networking vendor unveiled steps to simplify its channel program, while also rolling out a new industry expertise recognition effort.

DALLAS -- Cisco has changed its programs for resale partners, taking steps the vendor said simplify its specialization portfolio and deal registration initiatives.

As for Cisco specializations, the company has consolidated 10 Express-level specializations into one Express Specialization, which incorporates separate tracks covering the breadth of Cisco's architectures. The company's Express tier, its entry-level specialization, targets partners seeking greater proficiency in foundational technologies, such as networking and security. The move to shrink those Cisco specializations took place in August.

In addition, Cisco is reducing its midtier Advanced specializations from 13 to five. The reduced designations are now called Advanced Architecture Specializations. That consolidation is effective as of November. At the top-tier, Cisco is adding a Master Networking Specialization that reflects its intent-based networking rollout, which began in June 2017. The Master Networking Specialization, which will encompass software, automation, analytics, security and programmability, will become available in March 2018.

Cisco, meanwhile, also consolidated programs designed to protect partners' investment in new business opportunities.

"We've massively simplified deal registration," said Marc Surplus, vice president of strategy, planning and programs for Cisco's Global Partner Organization. He said the company used to have 15 different programs and incentives that partners needed to navigate. Those initiatives have been pared back to two deal registration tracks.

Industry expertise recognized

The drive toward simplification can be seen in other mature partner programs. Microsoft, at its Inspire partner conference, disclosed steps to simplify its partner engagement and go-to-market approaches. Programs and offers accumulate over time, making it more difficult for channel partners to conduct business with vendors.

In other partner program moves, Cisco has replaced a voucher initiative for its Cisco Digital Network Architecture (DNA) with a VIP Activation program, which the company said boosts the back-end rebates for the Cisco ONE Software suite, DNA Advantage, Cisco Identity Services Engine and Cisco Stealthwatch.

The vendor also said it will ramp up its recognition of partners' industry-specific expertise. Partners at the Premier Certified, Gold Certified and Master Specialized levels can begin enrolling for the new industry recognition this month. Partners obtaining the recognition will be identified in the Cisco Partner Locator as having expertise in particular verticals.

Partners back simplification

Ken Farber, president of the systems and software organization at ePlus, a managed services and IT solutions provider based in Herndon, Va., welcomed the streamlining of Cisco specializations.

"There are so many specializations out there today," he said, noting the reduction in their number helps customers determine which partners can help them. He cited the new Master Networking Specialization, in particular, as a designation that could boost its recognition among customers.

Our strategy is, absolutely, you have to have verticals to win in the market.
Renae Johnsonvice president of Cisco solutions, Logicalis

Renae Johnson, vice president of Cisco solutions at Logicalis, a managed services and IT solutions provider based in New York, said engineers at her company "can't wait to get started" on the Master Networking Specialization track. She also backed Cisco's recognition of industry expertise.

"Our strategy is, absolutely, you have to have verticals to win in the market," she said. Logicalis started its vertical push four years ago with a healthcare industry specialization. The company now cites vertical expertise in government [and] education, financial services, manufacturing, software providers and retail, as well as healthcare. 

Kent MacDonald, senior vice president of business development at Long View Systems, a provider of managed services and cloud services in Calgary, Alta., said the vertical recognition also takes into account the rise of line-of-business executives as IT buyers.

"A Cisco brand that says you are competent and have a solution aligned to a vertical speaks to business buyers," he said.

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