Cisco Americas Channel Chief Steers Partners Toward SDN8:27 AM EST Wed. Oct. 31, 2012
As Wendy Bahr settles back in as Cisco's Americas channel chief, she hopes to bring to Cisco's U.S., Canada and Latin America partners something she didn't necessarily have during her first tour in the role: a global perspective.
Running Cisco's global and transformational accounts, Bahr told CRN in a recent interview, allowed her to better understand things like the channel opportunity in emerging countries and how partners are better off packaging multi-vendor solutions in terms of a line-of-business conversation versus a siloed "networking" or "storage" sale. That's going to be crucial to helping partners get their arms around trends like software-defined networking, which Bahr said will affect all of Cisco's partners in some way.
"I think SDN and cloud fall into new models, and Cisco's always been good about moving toward new models," she said. "When we talk about SDN, obviously it's early days. But I think Cisco is in a tremendous position to take advantage of this."
Bahr was named senior vice president, Americas partner organization at the end of July, succeeding Jim Sherriff in the role as part of an ongoing series of executive changes specific to Cisco's Worldwide Partner Organization (WWPO).
It's a return for Bahr, who managed U.S. and Canada channels for Cisco from 2008 to 2010 before being named to head Cisco's global and transformational accounts, a newly created WWPO role, in 2010. Unlike before, however, her purview now includes Latin America channels, too.
"At my core, I'm a salesperson, and I missed being out in the field," Bahr told CRN. "When Jim had the opportunity to go work for [Cisco President] Rob [Lloyd], I grabbed this one. The work I was doing had some amazing things going on at the headquarters level, but I thought there was even better possibilities for traction in the field. The stars were aligning again and there was a good opportunity to take what I learned and apply it to what the partners are doing."
Bahr said that based on her conversations, a number of major Cisco partners are planning to gain expertise in the SDN and software app development areas via acquisition. But they are also looking to Cisco to be a thought leader in SDN and create more opportunities for the ISV community, as well as enable partnerships for more traditional VARs and integrators.
The WWPO is presently at work on an inventory of Cisco partners that have software development expertise, Bahr told CRN, because Cisco wants to better understand how partners are equipped to have the network virtualization and software-centric data center conversations.
"As you would expect, for many of our traditional VARs, this is not an area of expertise for them," she said. "But many of them have expressed interest in the as-a-service solutions model, so the cloud is creating a big interest in investing in this area."
From a channel leadership perspective, Bahr expects to stay on message behind recent Cisco initiatives like the midmarket-centric Partner Plus program and the Cisco Services Partner Program, both announced during this year's Cisco Partner Summit back in April. She said she'll work to keep partner communications consistent as the WWPO makes several transitions, not least her own return and the succession of former WWPO boss Keith Goodwin by Bruce Klein, now senior vice president, WWPO.
There are also a few more executive team changes in the works. Geoff Fancher, a 17-year Cisco veteran and most recently Cisco's vice president, U.S. field partner organization, has left Cisco for a top executive role at distributor Westcon Group's Cisco-centric Comstor unit, Bahr confirmed. She expects to fill Fancher's post in the next few weeks.
In addition, Ellen Berlan, most recently Cisco's director, worldwide specialized routes to market, service provider, DMR and cloud strategy, is moving into a newer role running cloud efforts in Bahr's team.
NEXT: Bahr's Best Bets For Channel Partners
As next-generation solution providers like cloud service providers and ISVs become more relevant to hardware-centric VARs and integrators, Bahr said Cisco expects to partner with those companies and also enable collaboration between its various channels. As Cisco becomes more of an SDN player, the ISV and cloud platform communities will be ideal Cisco channel players.
"It's a market in which we think we're not completely penetrated," she said.
Bahr told partners during a recent Cisco Partner Executive Exchange (CPEE) meeting that she will also continue the work started by Sheriff to streamline the administrative work required of partners for advanced certification, audits and Cisco incentive programs.
"We'll continue to look at our audit process and making changes to programs that reduce partners' administrative burden," she said. "We also continue to be very vocal about the need for joint account planning and making sure our partners are rewarded for partnering with us early in the process."
"A lot of those systems are still cumbersome and slow, but Jim started this effort -- his goal was a 1 percent improvement," said Gary Alexander, president and CEO of Alexander Open Systems, an Overland Park, Kan.-based solution provider and Cisco Gold partner, referring to Cisco's efforts to reduce partner costs of doing business with the vendor. "It's a modest goal, but it was a goal. We like where they're headed and we are seeing that steady improvement."
Another area of focus, Bahr said, will be Cisco's Teaming Incentive Program, which is intended to reward Cisco partners early on in the sales process to recognize the groundwork a complex sale requires. TIP had several challenges following its initial 2010 launch, with Cisco partners complaining that Cisco account reps hadn't been properly trained on the program and weren't ably helping solution providers realize benefits. But Bahr reiterated what Sherriff told CRN back in January, that TIP was finally up to speed.
"It's getting very close to second nature, which is when you know you've really learned something," she said. "It was a change in the way we go to market -- a level of trust between Cisco and our partners. There's always work to do, but the benefit of the TIP program is agreeing early in the process that we're going to win the deal together."
Bahr encouraged solution providers to increase their knowledge of SDN and the software-centric data center and also keep up their focus on key growth verticals like health care, smart grid and sales to tier-two, tier-three and tier-four service providers trying to build out cloud assets.
She also urged partners to keep an eye on ongoing Cisco channel consolidation.
"We don't see that declining," she said. "I would expect it to continue and the likelihood is there that it will increase."
PUBLISHED OCT. 31, 2012