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Cisco prepares set of tools to enhance vendor/VAR collaborative service sales

Cisco is preparing a set of applications and services it will use to help VARs to improve the level of service delivered to Cisco customers.

Over the next four months Cisco Systems Inc. plans to roll out a series of new services and online tools designed to give channel companies more Cisco products to sell and to improve the efficiency of their own businesses.

The first is a collaboration organizer that helps map out the roles of both Cisco and a partner in a particular customer deal.

The second is a network optimization tool designed to evaluate a customer's network to point out security holes, identify bottlenecks or potential failures, and recommend upgrades.

The third is a remote-management service to which Cisco will contribute analysis tools and a knowledgebase.

The fourth is an analysis tool value-added resellers (VARs) can use to evaluate the profitability and efficiency of their own businesses and identify areas for improvement.

The tools and programs were put together gingerly, so as not to alarm VARs who might interpret new services from any vendor as an intrusion on their market, according to Karl Meulema, vice president of services marketing and channels-customer advocacy at Cisco.

Cisco is expanding its professional services, but is not changing its business model, which currently generates 90% of its product revenue and just short of 90% of its services revenue through the channel, Meulema said.

The goal in all four cases is to create a collaborative model in which Cisco contributes networking knowledge and software, while VARs do the actual selling and provide the services, Meulema said.

The collaboration tool is designed to get Cisco and its partners on the same page before approaching a customer for a negotiation. It helps match the VAR's particular strengths with the customer's requirements and identifies areas Cisco's knowledge bases, applications or services can fill in the gaps. The tool is available free in January.

The network optimization tool is a piece of hardware a VAR installs on a customer's network to collect SNMP traps and other performance data. The customer -- most of which will be companies with fewer than 800 end users and a relatively small information technology staff -- gets more information on weak spots on the network. The VAR gets a new tool to sell upgrades and ongoing services; Cisco gets to sell more hardware, Meulema said.

It will be announced in March, Meulema said. Pricing has not yet been set.

The remote monitoring application, the result of Cisco's acquisition of network-management application developer NetSolv in 2004, includes a knowledge base that will help VARs match traffic patterns with problem/solution sets in order to provide a greater level of service then they would be able to deliver on their own.

The tool will be announced in January; pricing will be announced then.

The third application, which will also be announced in March, is the codification of a partner-evaluation service Cisco has offered to VARs and integrators.

The tool walks VAR managers through a series of questions designed to evaluate the speed of their product turnover, terms of their service contracts and other criteria that VARs often overlook, or measure only haphazardly, but which have a profound effect on the health of their businesses.

The in-person consulting service, which Cisco delivered to more than 300 partners, improved the profitability of those partners an average of 150%, Meulema said.

Similar success with the online tool depends on the accuracy and completeness of the information VAR managers use, and the honesty with which they evaluate their own weaknesses, he said.

That tool, which is free, will launch in March.

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