Cisco’s Video Vision: Will Partner Competency be as Pervasive as the Technology?

November 17, 2010 at 10:34 pm Leave a comment

By Beth Vanni – Director, Market Intelligence

It’s arguably the sexiest part of Cisco’s classic networking infrastructure  —  collaboration software and video conferencing for every workspace.  It makes the power of the network very visible, literally. To this technology laggard, these products represent the ultimate “killer app” for IT communications.  The days of George Jetson have arrived!

The combined technology from the Cisco and recent Tandberg acquisition certainly comprises a broad portfolio now. From immersive telepresence technology which captures the entire meeting room to small, desktop video conferencing devices for executive offices, the portfolio is positioned to meet the needs of a much broader set of company sizes and maturity levels than ever before.

And there are now two partner communities coming together who can sell and support this portfolio – those from Cisco’s evolving TelePresence and Webex segments combined with Tandberg’s audio/visual endpoint centric partner community.   Cisco is doing all the things they are known for in integrating acquisitions and going to market through their partners – integrating the two programs, remaining competency and value based and trying to make the investment proposition to partners very compelling.

But, this is where the question of real “pervasiveness” arises;  not of end-user need for video, but of channel capabilities.  Cisco has been long known for its technology innovation – producing new products and feature sets in some cases way ahead of its competitors.  And to their credit, they were the first major IT vendor to go all “value” in their channel program structure, recognizing that partner competency was the ticket to longer-term success.  But, those two approaches make it harder for them to gain broad market traction on new technologies, through partners.

The company has 60,000 total partners today, globally. Despite how complementary the two partner segments might be (Cisco Unified Communications & Telepresence VARs plus Tandberg endpoint VARs), they still collectively (1400 total) represent a small minority of the broader Cisco partner community (number?).   I’m not suggesting Cisco isn’t justified in requiring technical competency to support this product line – especially for the immersive enterprise-class telepresence solutions.  It just means that their vision of “all knowledge workers being video enabled” will take a long time to realize. For example, when they have as many SMB focused VARs today in their program who don’t even sell their more basic support services, how are they going to get them to invest in selling and marketing videoconferencing and video phones?

To Cisco’s credit, they are doing things right on the channel program front. They are trying to keep the partner profit opportunity high by aligning their discount strategy and list pricing model with their existing channel models.  So, for existing Cisco partners there will be no change to their discounting structures based on product category.   They are also making many of the more compelling parts of their award-winning channel program available to this partner segment as well —  the VIP and OIP registration programs.   They’ve done enough acquisitions to know how to mold into their core channel program and keep ease-of-doing business as high as possible for partners.

Cisco’s commitment to innovation and doing business through partners will prevail in their long-term success with this technology. As their “out of box experience”, ease of integration and price points become more attractive to smaller customers segments for this technology, partners will be forced to sit up and take notice.  And invest.  I just hope that doesn’t take another 5 years.  I must admit, I would love to be able to see and collaboratively interact with clients and  coworkers more effectively …. even if it does require me to put on some makeup and do my hair more often…….

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