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Cisco Spark: New offerings ignite partner opportunities

Cisco has unveiled new Spark offerings, designating channel partners as an important component of its go-to-market strategy for the business collaboration technology.

Cisco has lit a fire under its Spark app with a burst of announcements today about a more mature Spark -- namely, Spark the Service, Spark Hybrid Services and, ultimately, Spark the Platform. The news exposes a breadth of new opportunities for Cisco collaboration partners, who will be the vendor's key route to market.

The Spark news announcement, made today from Cisco Collaboration Summit 2015 in San Francisco, comes just about one year after the initial introduction of Project Squared ­­-- a business collaboration app that combines chat, audio, video, multiparty meetings and content sharing -- which was renamed Cisco Spark in March 2015.

With today's announcement, Spark the app has expanded into Spark the Service, Spark Hybrid Services and Spark for Developers -- and hands partners a growth and profitability play in the small and medium-sized business (SMB) markets and enterprise space.

"Our vision for Spark is to deliver a single collaboration experience that spans all modes of communication," said Ross Daniels, senior director of collaboration marketing at Cisco. The vendor is doing that based on three pillars: a relentless focus on the user experience, cloud-connected services and by leveraging existing investments or extended value to its installed base of users.

In a nutshell, the three main Cisco Spark announcements are:

  • Spark the Service, which is about Spark growing up from a messaging-centric application to full collaboration as a service;
  • Spark Hybrid Services, which extends on-premises services to the cloud; and
  • Spark for Developers -- with the addition of the new services and the opening up of the platform APIs to developers, Spark is destined to become a true platform.

Hosted by Cisco and sold by partners, Spark the Service is being touted by Cisco as a complete business collaboration service from the Cisco cloud that enables customers to message, meet or call anyone, anywhere and anytime.

While Spark the Service offers three key components or workloads from the cloud, Daniels said that the company differentiates the product as one experience and one offer; although, the company will allow customers to pick and choose some services.

Another piece of the announcement includes Spark Phone OS and Spark Room OS to connect endpoints to the Cisco Collaboration Cloud.

Spark Phone OS allows supported phones to connect to the Cisco Spark service in the cloud or to Cisco call control -- such as Unified Communications (UC) Manager, Business Edition series or Hosted Collaboration  Solution (HCS), according to the vendor. Spark Room OS runs on video endpoints and allows supported video endpoints to connect to the Cisco Spark service in the cloud or to Cisco video infrastructure.

"This whole simplification approach -- and you've heard us talk about making collaboration simple -- is not just for the user, but also for the partner so they can focus more on engagement with line of business and driving value on that end," said Gary Wolfson, head of global collaboration channels at Cisco.

Leveraging existing investments

Cisco's new Spark Hybrid Services are about connecting existing Cisco on-premises capabilities to Cisco Spark capabilities in the cloud. Spark Hybrid Services include: Call Service Aware with Zero Touch Meetings; Call Service Aware with Desk Control; Call Service Connect; and Calendar Service, which connects Exchange and Outlook, and adds new features.

Our vision for Spark is to deliver a single collaboration experience that spans all modes of communication.
Ross Danielssenior director, collaboration marketing at Cisco

For partners questioning what the new offerings bring to their existing UC Manager or UC business, Cisco's Wolfson noted that it extends the value of that business. "For our partners who sell our traditional core solutions, they now can layer in these Spark services and user experiences into existing customers who have [a] UC Manager environment on premises or from a hosted HCS cloud. And it also creates an opportunity to go back to existing customers who want additional capability and can now leverage the full cloud portfolio hybridized into that environment," he explained.

Cisco Spark availability for the new offerings will begin in the first quarter of 2016, and continue worldwide through the third quarter of 2016. U.S. partners will see product on the front end of the rollout schedule.

The vendor talked about offering a purchase model based on building blocks, or incremental functionally, to meet a customer's needs. So, customers can first choose their message and meeting services -- block 1, 2 or 3. On top of that, they choose their call services -- hybrid or cloud calling. And finally, based on the selection of calling, they can add a block 1, 2, or 3 of functionality required -- so, for example, business messaging, business messaging plus basic meeting or business messaging and advanced meeting.

There are also three add-on options: rooms, conference audio and additional centers.

The modularity of the offering differentiates Cisco's offering in the market, according to the vendor. "We modulize it, so partners only sell and customers only buy what they need," said Wolfson.

Cisco Spark: Partner opportunities

With today's Spark announcement, the opportunity for Cisco partners is threefold: to grow their business via volume sales of both new customers and to up-sell existing customers; to profit via margin and recurring revenue, again by selling endpoints and services; and to differentiate their business with Spark for Developers.

According to Wolfson, with the integration of APIs and Spark for Developers, partners can offer custom integration specific to a customer's business processes; develop integrations that are sold repeatedly in their own catalog; and do one-off integrations into native business applications for their existing customers.

Looking at cloud profitability for partners who focus on the midmarket and SMB space, Wolfson sees the first year shaping by building up a base of new users on the platform, followed by a second year that's driven by renewals and recurring revenue, new volume sales, and up-selling and cross-selling.

"The value of an annuity model is predicated on building a base of monthly recurring revenue, and as a partner builds that base and drives new services and [attaches] over time, that new annuity base ... becomes an incredible growth engine, profit engine and, really, a money-making engine in the years that follow," he said.

The enterprise space is where Cisco expects to see more action around the hybrid services offering, and partner profitability around integration into the existing UC Manager and HCS environments.

Some examples of services that partners can offer include: cloud assessment and readiness; plan, design and implementation; managed services; technical support; and consulting.

Finally, Wolfson talked about adoption services, which he said were critical. "When you're delivering consumption-based models, you really have to get in, and get customers to adopt and use and apply the technology to their business processes," he said.

To date, Cisco has helped over 150 partners, worldwide, build an adoption service practice.

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