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Cisco Partner Summit 2016: Channel can expect evolutionary change

Cisco executives speaking at the company's annual partner conference told attendees to expect a simplified channel program and improved alignment with the partner ecosystem.

SAN DIEGO -- At the day one keynote session of Cisco Partner Summit 2016, being held here from Feb. 29 to March 2, new top leadership executives Chuck Robbins, CEO, and Wendy Bahr, senior vice president of the global partner organization, spoke with enthusiasm to the more than 2,200 partners in attendance about how Cisco will continue its close alliance with partners and how a strategy of technology innovation will drive mutual success. The presentations revolved around the theme of this year's conference: Powered by Partnerships.

In his new role for about seven and a half months, Robbins, a 17-year Cisco veteran, said a key objective of his is to speed up innovation and to do that he outlined five pillars of innovation: build, buy, partner, invest and co-develop. He also addressed how the company is going to achieve its goals with its partner ecosystem.

"Because frankly, it's the only way we meet our expectations and help our customers achieve what they're trying to achieve," Robbins said. Eighty percent of Cisco revenue is driven by partners and through distribution.

The company today also made several product announcements at Cisco Partner Summit 2016 -- including new Nexus 9000 data center switches, Nexus 3000 data center switches, and the Cisco HyperFlex systems for hyper-converged infrastructure -- and also announced its intent to acquire CliQr Technologies, for application-centric orchestration for private, hybrid and public clouds.

We also have to do a better job to align our teams to go market with our ecosystem partners in a simpler, faster and easier way.
Wendy Bahrsenior vice president, global partner organization, Cisco

It was Bahr, however, who honed in on the evolution of Cisco's partner strategy including the three pillars: simplicity, alignment and value exchange. What this means to partners is that they should expect to see a series of evolutionary changes that will reshape how Cisco and partners work together.

"We're evolving our partnering strategy to give you the best programs, resources and experiences," said Bahr, who delved deeper into the three pillars.

Cisco's goal is to simplify with a holistic program that represents products, services and software and is easy for partners to understand, use and exchange value in better ways. This holistic program won't happen overnight, but the new channel chief promised transparent communication with partners every step of the way.

Seeking better alignment

Also on Cisco's radar is better alignment between sales and marketing in four priority areas: security, software, next-generation data center and a digital-ready network. "We also have to do a better job to align our teams to go to market with our ecosystem partners in a simpler, faster and easier way," Bahr said.

The third pillar is the idea of evolving how Cisco exchanges value with partners. "So as you take on new roles, as you work with new partners in the ecosystem, we're going to evolve how we exchange value with you," she said, adding that value comes in many forms such as incentives, enablement, expertise and assets.

How Cisco will put this into action for partners?

Bahr announced the launch of a Cisco Engage -- a suite of digital marketing services -- to reach more customers, drive more demand generation, and offer analytics and campaign reporting. It's built on the new Partner Central Marketing platform.

The Value Incentive Program is also being simplified from thousands of SKUs to several beginning with the highest growth and profitability products and software which are security offerings. More than 4,600 SKUs and seven payout levels are being reduced to four categories -- hardware, one-year license, multiyear license and perpetual license -- and four payout levels, or an associated payout level for each category.

Cisco will take this simplification approach to more architectures in FY17.

Cisco Partner Summit 2016: New software roles

Bahr also talked about new software roles: Lifecycle Advisor Role, which is about building the capability and practice to do adoption, expansion of software and renewal; and, the System Integrator role, which is about programmability, integration, API management and DevOps. Both roles are coming out on May 1 and they're optional for partners.

The new software roles are replacing Cisco's discussion last year of a new software program.

Later this year, expect to see Cisco introduce the role of Software Consultant.

"In the past, in a much simpler era of selling hardware you would see us announce a big program. In this world, we see this as more evolutionary steps and we will offer options for partners to play different roles in the ecosystem," Bahr said, adding that some partners will choose one role such as reseller, while others choose multiple roles such as reseller, lifecycle advisor and software developer.

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