Cisco Unveils Biggest Changes to Partner Programs in Years

**Editor’s Note: Click here for a list of recent channel-program changes you should know.**

CISCO PARTNER SUMMIT — For an organization that prides itself for being predictable, Cisco officials surprised business partners and company followers this week with a series of announcements that collectively amount to some of the biggest changes to the company’s partner programs in years.

On Monday, Cisco captured the attention of the technology world with a bold plan to take a more active role in the build-out of cloud infrastructures, something it previously said it preferred to leave to the work of others. Then on Tuesday, the networking vendor made a series of announcements that revealed how significantly Cisco’s view of the technology market has changed from just 10 months ago.

In effect, Cisco’s policy changes elevate the importance of software developers and cloud resellers in the company’s growing ecosystem while reducing the emphasis on resellers whose business model centers on delivering commodity networking gear to small organizations for modest returns. Put in more wonkish terms, Cisco has added a new plank to its global partner strategy, called the Solution Partner Program, and announced plans to retire the “Silver” reseller status that was a staple of Cisco partnering for years. The company also unveiled new requirements for Cisco Gold partners designed to increase their support of Cisco Cloud Services and other cloud-based offerings.

The changes were announced at Cisco’s annual Partner Summit, which has drawn more than 2,000 partners to Las Vegas and attracted another 5,000 partners from around the world to the company’s online Virtual Partner Summit (VPS), which is running concurrently.

“This is a really important time for Cisco and really important time for our partners,” said Rob Lloyd, president of development and sales at Cisco. “[Partner Summit 2014] will be one we all remember. In retrospect, we will look back at this as a turning point.”

Specific program changes were unveiled by Cisco’s Bruce Klein, senior vice president of the worldwide partner organization, and Edison Peres, senior vice president of the worldwide channels group.

After thanking partners for their continued support of Cisco, Klein devoted significant time to Cisco’s new Solution Provider Program, which provides specific benefits to organizations that create software solutions for customers. As Cisco tries to carve out a niche for itself in cloud computing, these entities have become increasingly important to it.

“The company’s existing programs weren’t aligned to the needs and desires of organizations that write code and create solutions in some form or another,” he told Channel Partners. So in order to reward organizations for developing solutions in and around the Cisco stack of technologies, the company decided to create an entirely new program just for them. He said the program is open for software developers of any size, including tier-one ISVs such as SAP and small, one-person entities that focus on a specific technology solution.

“We are actively seeking new cloud partners, consultants, vertical market experts — anyone with value who can commit to the Cisco stack that gives Cisco stickiness,” he said. “We will build out the Cisco partner ecosystem and are launching a recruiting binge.”

As for Peres, he framed his announcements as part of the unveiling of the “Next-Generation Channel Partner Program,” which will include new partner certifications and the elimination of the Silver-partner status that hundreds of Cisco partners have carried for years. Times have changed and customer needs have evolved, Peres said, and partners “need to adapt.”

The 30 percent or so of Cisco partners he referred to represent a subset of the overall Cisco community that have not moved aggressively to embrace cloud-solutions deployment. They can no longer sit back and remain on the sidelines as customers shift their investments from on-premise gear sold to IT professionals as a one-time, capital expense, to cloud-based capabilities purchased as an ongoing service by business professionals with funds drawn from an operating expense budget, Peres said.

“We need to help bring that one-third of the market that hasn’t changed along,” said Peres. The goal, he said, was not to kick Silver partners out of the Cisco program, but instead help them adapt more sustainable business models so that they continue to cater to customers’ needs. Fully 60 percent of existing Silver partners, he expects, will likely become “Gold” level partners.

The rest that remain in the Cisco program will become “Premier-level” partners, which is Cisco’s most basic partner designation, but have the option of distinguishing themselves through master certification training. Cisco is giving partners 16-24 months to make the transition.

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