Cisco offers Masters certification for deeper specialization

SAN DIEGO, Calif.– Cisco Systems’s push toward intelligent information networks has sparked major enhancements to its partner program.

Starting Tuesday, partners will have two years to achieve a minimum set of capabilities for routing, switching, voice, wireless and security.

New to the plan will the Masters specification. The specification will be added to Express and Advanced specifications. Express is the basic level, while Advanced is the integrated infrastructure level. The Masters specification will be given to those partners who are experts in one particular area such as voice and security.

Lifecycle services will also be a mandatory part of the each specialization.

In the past, Cisco Gold partners attained more benefits and margins than the company’s silver and premier partners would because they basically held all the certifications.

Cisco realized there are certain partners who are either boutique outfits or want only to specialize in security, for example. Through the new Masters specialization these deep partners will be able to attain the same level of rewards as a broad (gold) partners.

“It’s a level playing field for a Master security partner and a gold partner,” said Andrew Sage, senior director, worldwide channels marketing for Cisco.

T.C. Doyle, a channel analyst at Amazon Consulting, also said Cisco has created a level playing field with this new plan. While Doyle believes the overall plan will be encouraging to the channel, he added that Cisco would still need to work out a way to respect the value of the gold tier. “The gold tier does not want to be undermined. They have made boat-loads of investments and there could be some partners who push back,” he said.

Sage said Cisco wants its partners to consider depth and breath or both. “It’s a simple case of asking partners what they want to do. Will I be an integrated infrastructure provider and give the minimum set of routing, switching, wireless, security and voice to (customers)? And, we will ask some partners to go deep and be specialized in one area or multiple areas such as voice and security. These are the boutique partners who have skills in one area and are not interested in doing a lot of things,” Sage said.

According to IDC, routing and switching is going to be a US$25 billion market globally this year. If you tack on storage, security, wireless, and voice that market balloons to a US$42 billion opportunity for the channel in 2006.

This lucrative market also poses a problem for most partners, Sage said. Intelligent information networking will involve complex technology. Partners will need skills depth, he believes, as customers begin to demand a higher level of expertise especially in security and contact centres.

“Partners will need breath of skills to provide fully integrated networks. These are skills that are broad and they will need lifecycle services skills also to provide the services and support on the life of the equipment,” Sage said.

“From a technology perspective, intelligent information networks and the architecture that supports it means we are building the capability of partners to help us lead this transformation,” said Keith Goodwin, vice-president of worldwide channels for Cisco.

With that Cisco’s channel team, of which Goodwin is the leader, created a set of changes that would incent partners to invest in building intelligent information networks.

The Cisco Partner Summit, held this year in San Diego, had Edge as its theme. Goodwin believes it is an appropriate theme because “we are on the edge of a significant change.”

Masters are now going to get the highest level of VIP rebate and reward,” he added.

With these changes, the networking giant is trying to get its entire channel base to be either broad or deep within the next two years.

Unis Lumin, a Cisco gold partner based in Toronto, will not need the full two years to achieve all of the certifications. According to John Breakey, the CEO of Unis Lumin, the company is only two certifications away.

“The Masters discipline has a skill set and a depth in that one area such as security and they do not have to be a gold partner. In some ways this addresses the fact that some people just want to address one area of the Cisco product line,” Breakey said.

Doyle thinks the two year deadline will not be a major issue. He said the rank and file VARs will get the message and sell more of the portfolio. “This plan goes beyond selling routers and switches. It’s about getting more expertise, but it will take some time,” he said.

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