Cisco Backtracks on Specialization Requirements

With the changes, unveiled Monday, Cisco is again allowing role-sharing for solution providers seeking its technology specializations. That means the vendor no longer requires partners to designate a dedicated, separate individual to fill each sales and technical role.

Cisco's change of heart comes after some channel partners complained that the ban on role-sharing, introduced last year, was too taxing, particularly for smaller partners with limited staffs, said Surinder Brar, senior director of worldwide channel strategy and programs at Cisco, San Jose, Calif.

With the return of role-sharing, channel partners will have more flexibility in how they use their own personnel and will find it easier to specialize in multiple technologies, Brar said. The move also opens the door for partners to earn more back-end rebate money from Cisco's Value Incentive Program (VIP), which covers technologies such as security, unified communications and wireless, he said.

"They can generate more margin through VIP and, if they choose, use that margin to certify more people," Brar said. "If a partner has two individuals, one a sales engineer for security and the other a sales engineer for wireless, they now have the flexibility to [have one] cover both SE tracks and use the other for something else, like the data center specialization, for example."

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Frank Kobuszewski, vice president of the technology solutions group at Syracuse, NY-based Cisco partner CXtec applauded move but lamented that it didn't come sooner.

CXtec earlier this year learned that it needed another Cisco Certified Design Associate on staff "just to fill one of the check boxes," Kobuszewski said. "We then had to invest to put someone through a crash course."

That investment went deeper than the few thousand dollars CXtec had to shell out for training and testing, Kobuszewski said. "That engineer was also going to a Cisco Unity [unified messaging] course and we had to pull him off of that," he said.

In the future, the ability to use personnel to cover multiple roles will help CXtec, he said.

"Going forward, it would be better for us because we are focused on a specialization path," Kobuszewski said. CXtec currently earns VIP rebates on Cisco VoIP, security and wireless sales, he said.

Under the new rule changes, one individual can fill the sales engineer role for up to two technology specializations, the field engineer role for up to two specializations or the account manager role for up to four specializations.

Cisco is not changing the number of qualified individuals required to achieve Premier, Silver and Gold certification, Brar said.

Despite the reintroduction of role sharing, Cisco still encourages partners to use dedicated individuals whenever possible to distribute skill sets throughout their organizations.

"It provides risk mitigation when people leave if skills are spread out," he said.