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Cisco Adds Master Specialization

Cisco Systems Inc. is rewarding VARs and other partners for having a concentrated expertise in certain technology practice areas, by adding a new designation to its certification and training program: that of Master Specialization.

This is the next evolution of the partner program, explains Richard McLeod, director of unified communications solutions for Ciscos worldwide channels program. Six years ago, we moved from having a volume-based program to having a valuebased one, linking recognition to high-value delivery, rather than the biggest sales. Now, we have a new brand, the Master Specialization, which validates and verifies partners that deliver proven, in-depth sales, technical and services capability.

The vendors newly restructured partner program, announced at the 2006 Partner Summit, offers Cisco Premier, Silver and Gold certification levels, which represent a channel partners ability to deliver integrated networking solutions. At each level, partners can be designated with a Cisco Specialization, which represents a channel partners technology skills depth. Cisco offers three specialization levels (Express, Advanced and, now, Master) each requiring a partner to demonstrate greater sales, technical and service capabilities. Thus, a partner can choose to have a wide and deep knowledge base, or a narrow and deep one, depending on market focus.

Master Specialization is available for unified communications and security, with more to follow over the course of 2007, including for mobility and data center technology.

Security and UC are critical areas as customers are transitioning from TDM to consolidated IP LANs, and that sparks an applications marketplace, says McLeod. The real growth and opportunity is in collaboration, video and mobility. We are seeing an optimization of IP technology and innovation, where customers turn to applications to change how their business operates. They are creating new ways to turn technology into a strategic asset to differentiate their business. Thats what our partners have to provide.

In 2006, Cisco announced some 40 new products, enhancements and tools for UC, formerly known as Cisco IP Communications. The vendor has focused on the network as a delivery mechanism for the applications that provide the growth in the marketplace. We will see it go from a $13 billion flat market to a $33 billion total market in 2010,  says McLeod. We are already seeing sophisticated customer requirements for strategic application integration, day two support, business impact analysis. Partners need to talk ROI, workflow, business discovery, and need a general contractor capability to bring together switching and routing, mobility and the apps. Thats what the Master Specialization indicates.

Partners that achieve Master Specialization will receive unique branding within Ciscos online Partner Locator, have priority access to tech support, and will earn the highest incentives we have, equivalent to Gold status.


Achieving Mastery

To achieve the Master Unified Communications Specialization, partners must first attain the Advanced Unified Communications Specialization. Channel partners must then meet a series of stringent requirements in three areas:

Technology Capabilities.

Partner must possess a number of Cisco and industry-standard technical certification requirements, including a Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert designation in voice and a project management certification. They must also have a Cisco Advanced Technology Provider designation for the Unified Contact Center Enterprise or Rich- Media Communications Enterprise areas.

Lifecycle Services.

Partner must demonstrate the infrastructure to support a full menu of lifecycle service offerings and capabilities (covering the ability to prepare, plan, design, implement, operate and optimize the solution) with emphasis on support and optimization services. Partners must pass an audit on the operate phase of the Cisco Lifecycle Services methodology.

Sales Expertise.

Partners are evaluated on their ability to assess their customers business requirements and map a sophisticated, application-rich Cisco unified communications solution to business needs. These skills are assessed via the partners demonstration capabilities and proven track record of five customer references, which must include the integration of multiple unified communications solutions in combination.

Channel partners with a highly qualified unified communications practice can achieve a Master Specialization, regardless of Cisco certification level. To protect the integrity and value of the Master Specialization, Cisco requires an annual on-site audit.

Links
Cisco Systems Inc. www.cisco.com

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