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stephen_lawson
Senior U.S. Correspondent

Cisco execs talk about channel strategy

News
Apr 16, 20034 mins
Cisco SystemsWi-Fi

Cisco executives at this week’s Cisco Partner Summit talked to a packed house about moves to help the networking giant’s channel partners reach new customers and roll out advanced technologies such as voice over IP, security, wireless mobility and storage networks.

LAS VEGAS – Cisco executives at this week’s Cisco Partner Summit talked to a packed house about moves to help the networking giant’s channel partners reach new customers and roll out advanced technologies such as voice over IP, security, wireless mobility and storage networks.

The summit, taking place at a Las Vegas hotel, comes shortly after Cisco announced it would acquire low-end equipment maker Linksys Group and just as the company begins a $150 million marketing campaign aimed largely at making networks relevant to small businesses that haven’t invested much in networking. Cisco relies on its partner channels, including system integrators, value-added resellers and distributors, for more than 90% of its revenue, company executives said.

The broad array of new initiatives discussed Tuesday included a way for Cisco experts to step in and help channel partners deploy new technologies at customer sites, a more efficient system for setting up and renewing equipment service contracts, a leasing program for demonstration lab equipment and a new Web portal for partners.

With the new Partner Consultative Support program, channel partners that lack expertise in new, advanced technologies can call on Cisco engineers to help out with their initial deployments at customer sites, said James Richardson, Cisco executive vice president and chief marketing officer, in an interview at the conference. The partners can hire Cisco to provide the help or have Cisco handle the job as a whole and subcontract with the partner for what the partner is able to do, he said.

Up until now, Cisco has provided education and information to channel partners but they were on their own in the deployment at the customer site itself, Richardson said. The new offering doesn’t squeeze out the channel, he said.

“We’re not going to become a professional services company. We don’t want to compete with our channel… We want to become the experts that can help you in the complex environments,” Richardson said. Partner Consultative Support is scheduled to be available globally starting this month.

The company, through its new Services Management System (SMS), will automate and simplify the process of getting a support contract for Cisco gear. Today customers get a packet of papers with a new product, fill them out and turn them in to register the product and set up a service contract.

The new system will change that in phases. In the first phase, instead of getting a package, the customer will get an e-mail message saying a contract is available and they can accept it via an e-mail response. Eventually, later this year, users, resellers and product distributors will be able to register and renew service contracts online. They will also be able to track the life cycle of a service contract online from purchase date through contract renewal, saving time and expense. SMS is now available to distributors and authorized partners in the U.S. Cisco plans to implement it in Europe, the Middle East and Africa in the third quarter and in the rest of the world in the first half of 2004.

Cisco also said it will offer more flexible financing options to channel partners, including the option to lease demonstration lab equipment they need to achieve and maintain certifications and specializations from Cisco. In collaboration with Cisco System Capital, Cisco in the second half of this year will implement a program that lets them lease equipment at competitive rates for 24 months.

The leasing program could be a boon to resellers in Brazil, said Marcelo Ikeda, director of sales and products at Mude, a large distributor in Sao Paulo. Being able to pay for the gear as an operating expense rather than a capital expense would give them an incentive to start working with new technologies such as VoIP, he said.

Cisco Partner View, a new Web portal for channel partners, provides a variety of information including updates about a partner’s Cisco certification status, current promotions, customer and partner satisfaction ratings and links to the Cisco Partner E-Learning Connection site. It can be personalized for a particular channel partner company or an individual at that company.

There are 175 partners using the portal already, said Kevin MacRitchie, vice president of worldwide channel operations. The new portal will be made available in English to Cisco Gold and Silver partners on May 12 and soon after to all partners. Partners will be able to keep using the current view when they log in to Cisco.com for a period of about three to six months. It will be ported to other languages over time, he said.