Cisco Seeks Love Connection Between VARs, ISVs

The buzz around collaboration and Web 2.0 has finally hit the Cisco Systems channel partner program.

The company Wednesday took the wraps off a new channel initiative that encourages partners to team with ISVs and provides a virtual platform in which they can meet and interact.

The new Cisco Industry Solutions Partner Network unveiled at a press event in Dublin, Ireland, aims to introduce certified Cisco partners to a bevy of pre-defined solutions that combine Cisco technology and applications from its ISV partners.

"ISPN is one element of an overall initiative of creating more solutions selling on the part of our partner community," said Keith Goodwin, senior vice president of worldwide channels at Cisco, San Jose, Calif.

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Cisco is encouraging its solution providers to add more applications expertise to their portfolios and put more focus on selling solutions. Partners that take those steps are securing larger deals and higher margins, said Andrew Sage, senior director of worldwide channels market development for Cisco.

As part of the initiative, Cisco has pre-qualified 30 vertical solutions in conjunction with ISVs and VARs who have developed their own applications. ISPN members that sell the solutions will earn the extra margins afforded through Cisco's Solution Incentive Program (SIP). Until now, partners participating in SIP could only earn financial rewards for solutions they themselves developed.

"Now they can get the SIP discount as if they had created the solutions themselves," Goodwin said, adding that Cisco is now working on a pipeline for the next 30 solutions to be added to the program.

In addition, Cisco is also rolling out a new Cisco Partner Space virtual community platform, a Web 2.0 offering that seems like a cross between MySpace and Second Life. In that environment, solution providers can visit virtual "booths" set up by ISVs to educate potential partners on their solution offerings, see the presence status of other community members and initiate chat conversations with representatives from the ISVs.

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In the future, Cisco will tap the same platform will to foster partnerships between VARs and to bring customers to VARs, Sage said.

Toward that end, VARs can also set up their own online profile pages within the Cisco environment. By October, links to those pages will then appear in Cisco's online partner locator tool, putting them in front of end-user customers who are looking to work with a channel partner.

Cisco is hoping the platform will encourage collaboration and foster relationships between its various partners, helping them overcome the trust and account control issues that inevitably crop up when one partner brings another in on an account.

"[A lack of] trust is an inhibitor to collaboration," he said.

Cisco solution providers and ISV partners said the initiative should help them find new business opportunities.

"We intend to be very involved in looking to identify other trusted partners Cisco brings to the table. It's not something we've done a good job of. Because of this we see there are other opportunities," said Bryan Tate, chairman and CEO of Digitel, an Atlanta-based solution provider. Digitel currently partners with Cistera Networks, a Cisco ISV partner that offers communications applications.

Derek Downs, president of Dallas-based Cistera, said partners that find each other through Cisco's program will still have to work to hammer out joint business plans and develop trust. Nevertheless his company's participation in ISPN could help speed the process of bringing Cistera and Cisco solution providers together.

"I look at ISPN as a framework that allows the due diligence partners have to go through [when signing on a new ISV partner] to go faster," Downs said.

Solution providers that join ISPN have to commit to building practices based on repeatable solutions and designate sales and technical resources to support the practices. In exchange, partners will receive training and other educational resources, access to proposal-based joint marketing funds and access to collaborative tools such as Partner Space.