Cisco is preparing for a year of solid partner growth following 12 months of internal investments and enhancements, ramping up lifecycle efforts as security and collaboration opportunities accelerate across Australia and New Zealand (A/NZ).
With customer experience (CX) a leading priority -- dovetailing into software and recurring revenue growth -- the vendor has focused on in-house additions to lay the foundation for future profitability via the channel, with distribution expected to assume greater responsibility in the process.
“We’ve spent the past 12 months structuring ourselves for growth and investing in the right internal capabilities to help partners be successful,” said Rodney Hamill, managing director of Partner and Routes to Market Sales across A/NZ at Cisco.
“We have Kelly Sabo leading distribution, Emma Harris driving our growth team, Mary Armstrong supporting our partners and Fiona Hodges heading our enterprise agreements and buying activities with partners -- we have a strong and settled team, backed by increased invested in our software and CX offerings.”
The addition of Hodges -- who joined the vendor nine months ago -- in particular signals a change in approach for Cisco in relation to CX, as the technology giant becomes more purposeful in driving channel engagement.
“This is a new role and a big position for us,” Hamill outlined. “Fiona is leading our efforts helping partners focus on Cisco Enterprise Agreements [EA], enablement, simplification and navigating the vendor machine.
“Partner account managers [PAMs] used to carry out this function for partners using our software specialists but the portfolio is too wide meaning we required more specialisation. Fiona is helping partners build out lifecycle practices -- some are advanced and others are starting that journey.”
Speaking to ARN on the sidelines of Cisco Partner Summit 2022 in Las Vegas, Hamill said at the heart of the structural and personnel changes is a commitment to demonstrate “best practice” for partners to allow the channel more opportunity to maximise Cisco offerings and rebates.
“As we sell more EAs and more recurring software offers, we’re going to see increased focus on renewals,” he outlined. “We need to ensure we’re landing the deal, driving effective adoption and then prioritising expanding and renewing when the time comes.”
A trigger point in partners embracing the lifecycle approach came approximately 12-18 months, acknowledged Hamill, when Cisco changed compensation models for sellers.
“Our sellers are focused on incremental and recurring revenues, they are prioritising renewals,” he added. “We’re changed the compensation model to match the whole lifecycle approach and we’re seeing a lot more interest come from our account managers looking for the renewal and adoption to drive customer success.
“This means working and relying more on partners to execute and leaning into our channel capabilities. Partners play a pivotal role from a CX perspective.”
Top tech priorities
Specific to technology solutions, Cisco recently expanded security portfolio capabilities to provide additional layers of value to partners, enhancing offerings linked to zero trust, networking and data protection.
Unveiled during Cisco Partner Summit, the upgrade is aligned to Cisco Security Cloud which operates as a platform unifying management and policy administration.
The end-to-end play is designed to better safeguard users, devices and applications across public cloud environments and private data centres, in addition to removing the threat of public cloud lock-in.
“We’ve all seen the headlines and we all fully understand security is now a focus area,” Hamill acknowledged. “Recent attacks prove that no business is immune to cyber threats and that security is top of mind for all board members in A/NZ, big and small.
“When speaking with customers on how to respond, the best analogy I’ve heard is that organisations view this as similar to getting into a ring with Mike Tyson -- there’s nothing you can do to defend yourself. But there is because you can wear helmets and pads to mitigate those risks. And we see the mitigation of risk in our everyday lives, such as guardrails down freeways.”
Within the context of technology, Hamill advised partners to assess how to help customers mitigate risks in the network, leveraging increased visibility and product enhancements to reduce the threat surface while generating new levels of end-user awareness.
“Our partners are building out strong security practices in response, take Data#3 and Outcomex as great examples,” he added. “This isn’t a bolt-on solution play, rather dedicated specialisations and deep levels of expertise, adopting more of a holistic view.
“Given the push into hybrid cloud, it’s no longer good enough to simply bolt security onto a network when the network is now everywhere. We have networks connecting to public and private clouds, on-premises environments plus office and home locations -- partners can now layer security tools on top and adopt a more specialised position.”
In addition to security, collaboration offerings will play a pivotal role in the months ahead as customers return to the office amid a hybrid approach to work.
Such market potential was emphasised by the ability for customers to run Microsoft Teams natively on Cisco Room and Desk devices Certified for Microsoft Teams, with the option of Teams as the default experience.
Unveiled during Microsoft Ignite in October, the move will see Cisco become a partner in the Certified for Microsoft Teams program for the first time.
“We have Webex as a platform which naturally experienced strong adoption during the pandemic but also, our recent partnership with Microsoft will create massive opportunities for the channel,” Hamill advised.
“The current products supporting Microsoft in boardrooms are of consumer grade and the experience hasn’t been there for users. If businesses want to encourage employees to return to the office, they need to provide strong and consistent work experiences that is as good as the home.
“We see huge opportunity for partners to assume a leadership position helping customers improve the user experience, even moving into advising how to retrofit office spaces and assess room utilisation -- areas which have been multiplied through this Microsoft announcement.”
Given the size and scale of both Cisco and Microsoft ecosystems on both sides of the Tasman -- and the potential synergies and overlap -- Hamill said partner reaction was aligned following the heavyweight sync-up.
“About time,” Hamill stated. “That was the comment from partners and we see lots of commercial potential here, the deals are already on the table but in a much more enhanced way. This is a game-changer for the channel.”
Distribution continues to deliver
Realising the lifecycle potential in the context of security and collaboration will also hinge on solid distribution support, added Hamill, emphasising the importance of the supply chain in driving specialisation while building out long-tail capabilities.
“Our long-tail approach is landing well and we continue to target mid-market and SMB spaces,” he noted. “Partners such as Nextgen are embracing this as one of the inaugural partners for our new Webex wholesale program. We're looking to continue building offers into a lot of these service providers, big and small.”
As outlined by Hamill, Cisco is seeking a “zero to light touch” approach to SMB in A/NZ, an approach dependent on delivering the correct solutions via the correct supply chain.
“We have the right distribution support in A/NZ which allows us to execute well,” Hamill explained. “We just need to empower our distributors with the right programs, offers, pricing and products to effectively drive market growth. We’re pivoting heavily into this area during the next 12 months.”
Specific to the long-tail, Hamill said the onus will be on distribution to step up and service a relatively untapped market.
“Our expectation is that they can help even more,” he said. “They have the reach and are the unsung heroes because they have made huge investments into building Cisco practices. We see this as a network effect and expect traction to multiply as we ramp up.”
Unveiled during Cisco Partner Summit, Westcon-Comstor Australia took home the regional distributor of the year honours in 2022, spanning the entire Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ) region. Each award winner was selected based on “performance, alignment and innovation” in how they support customers and partners through Cisco solutions and services.
“We’re delighted and humbled by this award,” said Phil Cameron, managing director of Australia at Westcon-Comstor. “We have significantly invested and built a specialised Cisco practice under the leadership of John Poulter that delivers deep Cisco skills along with operational excellence. We thank Cisco and our valued partners for our strong relationships and partner success.”
According to Hamill, such success represents a “big achievement” amid a healthy and thriving channel ecosystem.
“Westcon-Comstor was first on our EA pilot program to scale into our tier-two and non-direct business areas in Australia, and helped scale into long-tail partners across the board,” he added. “We continue to explore new routes to market such as via Amazon Web Services [AWS] and understanding the role of the distributor in a marketplace environment.
“Westcon-Comstor has been very progressive in their approach and thinking in this space but they also continue to perform the traditional role of a distributor very well. Notably, all three distributors in Australia -- Westcon-Comstor, Dicker Data and Ingram Micro -- are very skilled and very capable. They continue to challenge each other and this creates a healthy environment for our high-performing partner community.”