5 Channel Ops: IoT Drivers, Windows 10, EMC World Preview

Lorna GareySpeculation over who’s trying to buy is reaching fever pitch. My take is that as long as it’s not Oracle, resellers shouldn’t worry much. (Can you just picture a Fusion front end?) In fact, if it’s Microsoft, that could be good news for solutions providers and customers. This week’s wrap-up includes two items from Cisco’s partner summit; see Channel Partners’ take on CEO John Chambers’ keynote here.

3 Reasons to Pay Attention To IoT

The Internet of Things was unsurprisingly a big focus at this week’s Cisco partner summit. Kip Compton, VP of the IoT systems & software group, readily admits that the market is still aspirational for most partners, but he likened the potential to plastics in the 1960s (queue “The Graduate”). As for why channel partners should devote resources to IoT, Compton makes three points:

  • First, IoT helps take channel partners beyond the IT department and into business units, giving exposure to new buying centers for products and services that CMOs are dreaming up. “That can be challenging, but it’s also rewarding because it’s not cannibalistic in any way,” he said.
  • In addition to new business ops, Compton pointed to upcoming refresh cycles for some major verticals. “Manufacturing, transportation, cities and stadiums, utilities, energy and so forth — a lot of these facilities are refreshed technologically every seven to 10 years, not every two or three,” he said. “Ethernet and wireless are just reaching the kind of maturity where they’re displacing proprietary technologies that aren’t IP-based.” That builds on the skills Cisco partners bring to the table. “IP is so pervasive,” he said. “It’s hard to stand up and say ‘We’re anti-Ethernet.’” Even in hidebound verticals, the concept of “security by obscurity” and proprietary techs isn’t flying anymore. Compton says many verticals are only about 20 percent through the transformation from older, closed techs to standardized networking. “That’s a huge opportunity for us and, we believe, our partners to participate in that transition.”
  • Third, for once, regulations are encouraging rather than thwarting progress. “A lot of times we’ve seen regulatory being a catalyst [for IoT] as opposed to an inhibitor,” said Compton. He cites positive train control as an example; the logic is the same as adding sensors to street lights when swapping in LEDs. Customers are doing the work, why not advise them to maximize the benefit? “Once I’ve got a connected train, I can monitor the temperature of the ball bearings to avoid derailment, and I can keep track of how the conductor is driving the train because there’s a significant difference between the efficiency of my best conductor versus my worst and my fuel consumption is directly connected to profitability,” he said. Essentially, the LED upgrade is the driving force, but smart channel partners will suggest ways to piggyback on that effort.

One thing vendors and partners alike need to keep an eye on is data compatibility. Today, IoT services tend to be standalone; broad interoperability is not needed to deliver ROI. But that demand is coming — a municipality, for example, will want its parking monitoring and traffic control systems to talk. No one will be served by multiple, incompatible formats, yet that danger exists.

“We’re seeing a new standards body or consortium formed almost per month in the IoT space,” said Compton. “It’s a problem. It’s not slowing us down now, but it’s going to cap the potential short of where it should be if we don’t get a handle on it as an industry.” He said Cisco is participating in multiple standards bodies, and where it can, pushing for similar proposals. “In time, there’ll be an opportunity to align and push for standardization.” However, this early in the process, he isn’t placing any bets on – or even coming down in favor of – any data standard. “If we try to lock down everything right now, we might get it wrong,” he said. “We need some experimentation.”

Size Isn’t Everything

I also sat down with John Growdon, senior director of data center/virtualization sales for worldwide channels, who said the Cisco partner program is open to all solutions providers — it’s not just about sales volume.

“It’s about the value that the partner brings to the sale,” said Growdon, in particular deep technical expertise or the ability to pull complex solutions together. One area where Cisco is looking for expertise is around the Application Centric Infrastructure product line. Soni Jiandani, senior VP of the Insieme business unit, debuted at the event some market numbers for ACI: Of 2,655 Nexus 9K and ACI customers globally, 585 have bought into the APIC architecture, and 35 ecosystem partners are on board, including CA, Check Point, F5, IBM, Microsoft, Splunk and Symantec.

Growdon drilled down on the company’s technology specialization programs, which apply to fabrics and compute products; a partner versed in both can earn an architecture specialization. There’s a layer above that, the master cloud vendor, which requires that partners be able to integrate products from other vendors, including storage, management and orchestration. Size is rarely a limiting factor.

Growdon also discussed the company’s ATP (Authorized Technology Provider) program, which is open to partners willing to learn about brand new Cisco products, which often require very specialized training to ensure rollouts go smoothly.

“We tend to hand-select a group of partners and invite them into this, because we look for a certain profile,” he said. It’s a significant commitment, but Cisco in turn commits to extra training and ensuring the first few installs go smoothly. There’s also a certain level of exclusivity, as Cisco expands channel capacity in tandem with market demand, so partners will see some investment protection. For the ACI-ATP program, required to resell the controller, there are currently just 110 certified partners, up from five in November. These providers have each trained at least one account manager, field engineer and sales engineer; education takes anywhere from a few hours online for account managers to five days for field engineers.

Windows 10: 1 Billion By 18?

In news partially overshadowed by the whiz-bang HoloLens (just take my money, Satya), on Wednesday Microsoft announced new features in Windows 10 and unveiled at its Build developer conference a set of software development kits (SDKs) to help developers bring code written for the Web, .Net, Win32, Android and iOS to Windows 10 and the Windows Store with minimal modifications. The company also announced new Microsoft Azure data services for intelligent applications; Visual Studio and .Net tools and runtimes for Windows, Mac and Linux; APIs that enable developers to build rich apps with Office 365; and features including in-browser note-taking and future extensibility with JavaScript and HTML for Microsoft Edge.

Got all that? It’s too much to unpack in one column, and partners with dev practices can dig deeper here. But a few Win 10 capabilities likely to be of particular interest to retailer customers include carrier billing across all Windows 10 devices, an updated advertising SDK with support for video ads and install tracking, and new in-app purchase support. Even with Win 10 being a free upgrade, all this and more will be needed for the company to achieve its goal of 1 billion active Windows 10 devices by FY18, given the mobile dominance by iOS and Android.

EMC Preshow Highlights

It being conference season, EMC also rolled out this week some announcements in advance of EMC World, happening next week in Vegas. On Thursday, the storage giant said its Syncplicity Add-in for Outlook would be available at the end of this month. Syncplicity is essentially a secure container; the Add-in helps employees securely send files and folders of any size directly from Microsoft Outlook. EMC says it will enable users to collaborate on large files via email while reducing the infrastructure costs associated with email attachments by removing multiple copies of the same file. This approach is in stark contrast to newer collaboration systems, like Spark and Jive, that are aimed at breaking users’ dependence on email. EMC said the product will allow “files and folders of any size to be sent without any restrictions,” though IT will have the ability to apply group-based policies and control security over internally and externally shared files with password-protected links, link expiration and rights management controls. Then on Friday, EMC announced additions to its Documentum enterprise content management portfolio, including support for AES-256 encryption for content in transit and at rest and new options for specific verticals.

Partners not only need to decode the new capabilities – the Documentum line alone has more than 20 products and turns 25 years old this year – they also must advise customers on overall content management and collaboration strategies. Not every company needs a formal ECM system, and there’s legitimate disagreement about whether an email-centric approach to collaboration makes sense in a “mobile first” world.

Call Center Bingo

On Thursday, the International Customer Management Institute and cloud contact center software vendor Five9 released a new report that just might win the Captain Obvious award. Titled “Agent Apathy: The Root Cause of Poor Customer Service,” the report, based on a survey of 404 contact-center leaders, says that contact centers tend to place agents low on the organizational totem pole, resulting in apathetic employees and, ultimately, poor customer service.

“As the importance of the customer experience heightens, so does the role of the contact center. At the core of it all is the agent, individuals who day in and day out are the true frontline and the voice of our organizations,” wrote Justin Robbins, senior analyst for ICMI, in the release announcing the report. “While our discovery that most of them are underequipped and overstressed is not a surprising one, it is unacceptable nonetheless. This report exposes the dirty little secrets that are holding a majority of organizations back.”

One cause of apathy, according to the survey, is that 48 percent of contact center agents must support multiple channels, and 75 percent of contact-center leaders plan on that number increasing; 71 percent of respondents say difficult systems and inefficient tools are top contributors to agents’ workday stress. The report makes some suggestions on how partners might help customers improve matters, such as ensuring agents have the authority to resolve customer issues, making their tools and technologies as efficient and effective as possible, and holding them accountable only for outcomes they can actually control. Gee, ya think?

Follow executive editor @LornaGarey on Twitter.

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