Cisco Seeking VoIP Masters


The new specialization is the second in a planned series of high-end badges for Cisco partners that want to take a deep dive into specific technology areas. The vendor launched its first, the Master Security specialization, in September after introducing the concept to channel partners in March at its annual Cisco Partner Summit.

With the new specialization, Cisco seeks to reward and differentiate channel partners with strong IP communications practices that span in-depth sales, technical and service capabilities, said Edison Peres, vice president and chief go-to-market officer at Cisco, San Jose, Calif.

With the variety of communications devices and collaboration applications and technologies such as VoIP, mobility, video and presence that are now coming together over IP networks, solution providers have an unprecedented opportunity to tie technology in with customers' business processes to help them improve productivity, Peres said.

"We're helping to identify who are the partners that could enable this," Peres said of the new specialization.

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Applications in areas such as mobility, video streaming, messaging, customer contact and collaboration will be a growing component of IP communications solutions going forward, Peres said, pointing to research culled from a variety of sources that shows such applications will account for about half of the projected $33 billion IP communications market by 2010.

Sales of complex IP communications solutions are helping drive high-margin opportunities for Berbee Information Networks, a Madison, Wis., solution provider and Cisco Gold partner acquired earlier this month by CDW.

"When you enable a customer to solve problems, to deliver a call center to provide better customer service ... they're willing to pay a premium," said Paul Moncrief, regional sales manager at Berbee, which is now going after Cisco's Master Unified Communications and Master Security specializations.

Spanlink Communications, a Cisco Silver partner that specializes in IP contact center solutions, is also applying for Master-level certification, said Eric LeBow, director of customer advocacy at the Minneapolis-based solution provider. Spanlink expects to gain differentiation, prestige and financial benefits from earning the new designation, he said.

Financial incentives will come in the form of an additional margin point on voice products through Cisco's popular Value Incentive Program, a back-end rebate initiative, Peres said.

To achieve the specialization, however, will be no easy task. To qualify, partners will need to meet stringent demands. On the sales front, partners will need to exhibit complex lab and demo capabilities and provide five customer solutions sales references, which will be verified by on-site audits. On the technical side, partners will need to achieve Cisco's Advanced Unified Communications specialization as a prerequisite, earn Cisco's Advanced Technology Provider Rich Media or Contact Center designations and hold Cisco CCIE-Voice credentials as well as Project Management Institute's Project Management Professional certification. Partners' services capabilities, which need to include complete Day 2 support and a full range of life-cycle services, will also be audited on-site.

Peres estimated that 25 percent to 30 percent of Cisco's 550 U.S. Unified Communications-specialized channel partners will strive to attain Master-level certification.

While partners like Berbee and Spanlink already have most of the requirements in place, having made investments to build up their solutions practices over the past few years, other Cisco solution providers might have to farther to go in order to achieve Master-level certification.

"The amount of money they have to invest will be different depending on where they're starting from," Peres said.