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Massive Cisco Partner Program Overhaul Will Reward, ‘Elevate’ Partners

The biggest changes to the tech giant’s partner program structure in more than a decade will help Cisco partners go after lifecycle and everything as-a-service opportunities.

Cisco is dropping the number of partner programs from upwards of 12 disparate programs to one unified program for Cisco partners of all kinds.

The new Cisco Partner Program is not only greatly simplified, but it will highlight and reward the variety of crucial roles partners play with their end customers, especially as many partners shift to focus on lifecycle and less on products, the tech giant unveiled on Wednesday during Cisco Partner Summit Digital 2020.

“We’re announcing some of the biggest changes to our partner program to lay the foundation for the future,” Marc Surplus, vice president, strategy, planning and programs for Cisco’s Global Partner Organization, told CRN. “The product lifecycle is being increasingly replaced by a new profit model tied to the customer lifecycle and delivering continuous value … we determined that the time is right now for a pretty significant change to our partner program.”

[Related: New SD-WAN-Infused Cisco Catalyst Line Targets Edge, 5G Use Cases ]

Surplus said that historically, every time there’s been a market transition in favor of a new capability or partner type, Cisco has responded by standing up a new partner program. However, the new, simplified partner structure will eliminate the need for partners to navigate through different requirements, taxonomy and anniversary dates, he said.

The new, single Cisco Partner Program will be centered on the four roles that partners are playing for customers: Integrator, Provider, Developer, and Advisor. Cisco partners can chose or will naturally fit into at least one role and can also focus on more than one role as their businesses transform, Surplus said. Each role will offer Cisco’s Gold, Premier and Select tiers.

“It’s very welcome to partners to see a very simplified way of doing business with Cisco,” said Kent MacDonald, senior vice president of strategic alliances for Calgary, Alberta-based Long View Systems, a Cisco Gold partner.

Under the new Cisco Partner Program, Long View Systems will become a Gold-level Integrator and Provider partner. The company will also look into achieving Gold status as a Developer partner as it continues to build out its DevOps practice, MacDonald said. “Formerly, Gold [status] was one size fits all, but that isn’t reflective of the market today,” he said. “Many partners want to build a customer experience around their secret sauce of services, so to be able to have that distinction – it’s what customers are looking for.”

As partners are moved into the new program, other programs, such as the Cisco cloud and managed services program, will be retired in favor of the new “provider” role within the new program, for example, Cisco’s Surplus said.

Perhaps most importantly, Surplus said, Cisco partners are not being asked to start over as the new program will recognize and reflect existing partners’ expertise and specializations.

“We will be leveraging the investments that [partners] have made across all of the roles as we stand up the new program,” he said.

The new program will encourage partners to focus on lifecycle and recurring customer opportunities and emerging areas of focus for Cisco, such as everything as a service. Cisco’s CEO Chuck Robbins said in August that the COVID-19 pandemic forced the company to “re-examine” its entire portfolio and is working to transition the majority of its portfolio to an as-a-service consumption model.

While the new partner framework will continue to recognize the classical role that partners have played in providing solutions and technology, it will also help partners more easily seize managed and as a service deals, Surplus said.

COVID-19 accelerated a lot of transitions that were already happening in the market, and the future is now,” Surplus said. “Those transitions have happened, so our new reality as we think about programmatic support for our partners is that we see them playing multiple roles, and they want clear recognition and simplified experiences.”

The new bands of the Gold program will help customers more easily identify the right kind of Cisco partner to work with for their own businesses and IT requirements, especially as more customers seek out managed service and consumption-based IT offerings, Long View’s MacDonald added.

“This will really help elevate the partners who have been building out more managed services and as a service offerings and show customers that Cisco has a partner community that is offering consumption-based services,” MacDonald said. “It makes it clear to the customers which partners have the right expertise and certifications.”

The partner program changes will begin rolling out in November for integrator partner types. Provider partner types will begin making the transition to the new program in January or February. The developer and advisor roles will be brought in during eh Spring and summer timeframe for next year, Surplus said. All communication regarding requirement changes will be in place by the end of Cisco’s 2021 fiscal year and partners will be given 18 months to meet any new requirements, according to the company.

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