Page 2 of 4
Several updates to Cisco's collaboration strategy go beyond product launches; as of this year, for example, all of Cisco's endpoint products are video-enabled. Still others are programmatic; Cisco's Collaboration Breakaway program -- in which Cisco salespeople and Cisco partner salespeople are incentivized to displace competitive collaboration and unified communications systems -- has been a hit for Cisco since its Aug. 2010 debut.
In November, Cisco updated Breakaway, which already covers the rest of the collaboration portfolio, to include the Cius tablet, with Cisco offering 10 Cius devices for the price of five and a net discount of 83 percent on those devices when ordered with a minimum of 100 Cisco IP phones in a customer deployment.
Bank on more updates and expanded capabilities for Cisco collaboration tools such as Quad, Cisco's social media-flavored collaboration platform which it recently began offering a hosted service, hosted telepresence and also Social Miner, a heavily touted Cisco software tool that allows customers to track social networking interactions as a form of business intelligence.
Partners should also expect new channel specialization programs in the new year related to collaboration and video, McLeod said.
Make no mistake, McLeod said: the time is now for partners to invest with Cisco behind its collaboration vision, or risk being left behind.
"I'd correlate it to the days of 2002 to 2005 around IP telephony," he said. "Those early adopters from a partner perspective saw massive growth because they jumped on it. The sooner partners jump on it, the better they're going to be to capitalize on growth. In the next two to three years, if you haven't made the transition, you'll struggle to catch up."
Cisco's top solution providers are investing behind Cisco's collaboration vision with the thought that because trends such as mobility and desktop virtualization are line-of-business conversations as much as they are IT sales conversations, customers are more willing to invest in architecture than point UC or collaboration products.
"Collaboration is a platform, not an activity. It's about getting info to people, and I think Cisco's message is starting to get to that level," said Steve Reese, vice president, collaboration and secured architectures at INX, a Dallas-based Cisco Gold partner currently being acquired by another VAR500 power, Presidio Networked Solutions.
One of Cisco's biggest strengths, Reese said, is that it builds on its heritage as a network plumber to attack the collaboration problem as being of a piece with the business transformations brought on by data center upgrades, mobility and applications.
"We've spent many years, a lot of money and a lot of energy selling UC as a Level 1-through-Level 3 enabler," Reese said. "But it's time we start delivering Layer 4 through Layer 7 value. Basic features like IM and presence and single-number reach are now basic, but the true ability to create a communications platform that traverses through everything you're doing is something I think Cisco recognizes."
There's no question that collaboration and UC need to solve broader problems than they did even a few years ago, said other solution providers.
"Windows-based desktops are no longer the focal point of the workday," said Jason Parry, practice director, unified communications, at Force 3, a Crofton, Md.-based solution provider and Cisco Gold partner. "But a lot of customers are still stuck in how they do this, and how do they take it to the next level and move it into this collaborative environment that Cisco talks about."
Force 3's collaboration sales have grown 60 percent year-over-year, Parry said. While there are customers who'd favor buying less costly point products than making bigger investments in Cisco architecture, he said a lot of the budget discussions he has with customers do focus on line-of-business problems and how to move unified communications products past the "core requirements" of IP telephony and basic collaboration applications like presence.
"They're looking for a strategic approach," Parry said. "While there are definitely some that favor cheaper products, others are looking at how to take their UC [tools] out of silos to more of an architecture."
NEXT: The Next-Gen Cisco Collaboration Partner