Cisco's Wendy Bahr talks hybrid IT, goals and partner opportunities

Cisco partner exec Wendy Bahr discusses the impact of industry trends on the company's partners.

At Cisco Partner Summit 2014 in Las Vegas last week, SearchITChannel spoke to Wendy Bahr, senior vice president of the vendor's Americas Partner Organization. Bahr is responsible for partner enablement, partner profitability, and sales for Americas (U.S., Canada and Latin America) partners.

In the midst of the hubbub of Cisco Partner Summit, Bahr said partners attend the event looking for Cisco's strategic vision, both for the short term and for the long term. And, she said, partners want to walk away from the event with a sense of the economy, the industry and the pulse of the customer. Bahr said that this year customers are very interested in the pace of change -- which she noted as exponential -- as well as new product releases and innovations.

Here's a transcript of the discussion, edited for clarity and length.

What are your top three goals for the next year?

Wendy Bahr: The first is to understand the landscape. We've got the perfect storm of change happening. First, we have a lot of new technology, then we have new consumption models, and we also have new buyers outside of IT. So, what I want my partners here in the Americas to leave with is why it feels the way it feels right now. We've all been in the industry for a while now and we've had change on one or two of these axes, but today we're seeing the perfect storm of change. If partners understand that, if [they're] talking to a new line-of-business buyer -- and [they] should be -- then [they] have to use a different language. You don't want to talk about technology for the sake of technology; you want to have a customer conversation about [the] business problem you're trying to solve.

I use the example of human resources. Many of the chief HR officers need to have a mobile application that their employees can use to keep current on leadership, training, career development and product enablement. That probably [means] collaboration and a video app, but that's not what you … talk about to the HR chief officer. You talk to them about the outcome they're trying to drive.

[In the Americas] we have over $3.5 billion of installed base that has aged past [the] last day of support, meaning it's definitely in a position that needs to be upgraded.

Wendy Bahr,
senior vice president, Americas Partner Organization, Cisco

We need to learn this at Cisco as much as our partners do. So, our goal is … [to] do this together like we always have around advanced technologies, around architectures, around solutions. … And as we learn, our partners get the exact same training that we give to our Cisco sales teams, and we make that available to our partners, both physically and virtually.

The second goal is for our partners to be able to have business outcome discussions outside of IT. I call that the three "Cs" -- consulting, connecting and committing -- to help the customer get control. So our partners first consult, then they connect the dots as to where the data is going internally and externally to the cloud, and then they commit to a business outcome to help that customer get control over their network.

The third goal is to be able to take that info back to IT, connect the dots and work out a technical solution. There are so many issues around data sovereignty, policies and security. Some of the data that's going to the public cloud probably should not be. The line-of-business [manager] doesn't understand that, but the head of IT does -- so it puts the partner squarely in the middle of increasing their relevance, value and stickiness. I think it's a wonderful time for the partners if they embrace moving out of IT but not leaving IT, and understanding the hybrid IT landscape.

How will you achieve these goals?

Bahr: It begins with the Business Value Practitioner certification that we announced as part of our program evolution [in 2013]. This certification is about the business selling, or the business outcomes, or being able to have the business value conversation versus the traditional technology conversation.

So … we … provide [partners] with training and certifications, then we help them understand the hybrid IT landscape in terms of Cisco InterCloud, which we just announced. As we get to Cisco Live -- being held May 18-22 in San Francisco -- we're going to have more details for partners as to how they can manage a customer environment in a hybrid way. They're very good at the private clouds on-premises. They've had tremendous success.

Now with InterCloud fabric -- the software that gives them the visibility into the hybrid network -- we're going to start training them on how to manage a hybrid IT environment on behalf of the customer. That will be the next step.

So you're making it very clear that Cisco's goal over the next 12-18 months is to move partners toward hybrid IT.

Bahr: I would say all certified partners. We have many registered partners. The business model isn't going to flip over so fast … so there's always tons of room for our traditional registered partner set.

Can you talk about the new partner types that Cisco is looking for?

Bahr: We believe that in this new hybrid landscape, in order for customers to really be advantaged, we had to expand our partner ecosystem from traditional resale, cloud managed or cloud provider partners, to include partner types like independent software vendors [ISVs]; developers; consulting companies of all shapes and sizes who may not be reselling Cisco equipment; and our technology partners, who we sometimes refer to as IHVs -- independent hardware vendors --such as NetApp or EMC, for example.

We believe in the power of a Cisco partner ecosystem -- and here's an example: There's a lot of conversation about big data analytics, [including] both structured and unstructured data, and one of the big data analytics [platforms] is Hadoop. MapR is an ISV that takes Hadoop to production and scale from an operations perspective. MapR [doesn't] resell Cisco equipment, but [it is] usually in very early talking to [a customer's] VP of analytics or the risk officer. By teaming up with MapR through our leads at Cisco, a traditional reseller partner can get into a conversation about big data analytics much earlier. Typically, MapR and Hadoop have a year and a half of discussion, and then they put out an RFP for infrastructure.

If a traditional reseller engages with MapR early in the process and becomes a part of the overall solution, then they have stickiness, they have relevance and value, and they avoid an RFP process in many instances. That's the power of a Cisco partner ecosystem.

In the Cisco Marketplace, we have a portal where we will list and advertise our Cisco Marketplace ecosystem partners. I put together a team dedicated to on-boarding these new partner types and also [to] helping create that match-making in addition to the Cisco Marketplace -- they are my Software, Solutions and Innovation (SSI) team. They focus on developing these new partner types and connecting them back to our very valuable traditional partners.

So the match-making will take place through the marketplace as well as through traditional field engagement. The Cisco Marketplace will be online in FY15.

While our partners may have been wildly successful in the model of the past, I want [them] to feel the sense of urgency to start adopting some of the new practices so they'll have the time necessary to evolve their practices [and] to take advantage of these things.

What about today? Where are the opportunities for Cisco's partners today, and what goals do you have to help partners strengthen themselves whether that's in midmarket or converged systems, etc.?

Bahr: I'm quite passionate around an opportunity. We're fortunate enough to be the leader in infrastructure, so we have the opportunity to do significant installed base upgrades. I believe this is the low-hanging fruit.

[In the Americas], we have over $3.5 billion of installed base that has aged past [the] last day of support, meaning it's definitely in a position that needs to be upgraded. We have a promotion that's currently ongoing called Just Switch IT; it's focused on our switching and wireless space to migrate customers into the latest capability. There are many incentives for the partners, [including] traditional discounts on both products and services [and] six months' deferred payment terms with Cisco Capital.

We've also said that to do this type of upgrade, you have to do a network assessment. Well, [in North America], there's funding where we pay the partner upfront for the cost of going in to the customer and assessing the network. [Through July 30, partners can also get up to a 10% discount when they add technical services to select switches and wireless products.]

The uptake for Just Switch IT (in effect since fall 2013) has been fair, and I would like to see it become much more robust. We should go hard at preparing for the network of the future.

What are your biggest challenges?

Bahr: Prioritizing where partners believe their sweet spot is, understanding how to have business outcomes, and ensuring you have the right talent on staff to take you on this journey.

So pick your play, learn how to speak the language of business outcomes, and make sure your talent is up to the task.

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