Cisco to Bring WebEx to Channel Via Agent Model

Cisco Systems plans to sell its WebEx conferencing services through an agent program for solution providers that could be ready early next year, said the vendor's channel chief last week.

The online conferencing and collaboration services Cisco bought in May when it acquired WebEx Communications have primarily been sold direct, leaving Cisco to develop a sales strategy for the services that would work for its channel, said Keith Goodwin, senior vice president of worldwide channels at Cisco, during a press event in Dublin, Ireland.

"The intent was to figure out how we take that model and translate it into a program that works for partners so we could scale it around the world. We looked at all kinds of different alternatives, and the one that the team converged on is this agency model," Goodwin said.

Through the agent program, Cisco will be looking at ways of compensating partners for selling Web conferencing, audio conferencing and videoconferencing services that could be sold in one-year or multi-year increments, Goodwin said.

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"The intent of the agency model is to capture one year's worth of revenue and to compensate the partner on a fee basis based on one year of the service. The size of the service and the number of services [customers] actually sign up for determines the size of the revenue stream, which determines the size of the fee," Goodwin said. "You're fundamentally paying an agency fee to that partner for making that initial sale, and you're giving him credit for that first year of the revenue stream."

The introduction of an agent program would be a first for Cisco, he added.

Cisco is in the process of identifying partners to include in a pilot of the agent program, which likely will run for about six months, Goodwin said.

"As is typical with us, we want to pilot it, listen to the partners on how it works, and tune it before we scale it out to the rest of the partners," Goodwin said.

NEXT: Some partners not keen on agent model

Cisco solution providers attending the event said they are eager to add WebEx services to their unified communications portfolios.

"Figuring out how to provide [conferencing] as a service is an interesting opportunity. That's one we are interested in," said Jim Kavanaugh, CEO of World Wide Technology, a solution provider in St. Louis.

Bryan Tate, founder, chairman and CEO of Digitel, an Atlanta-based solution provider said WebEx is a desirable service but isn't sure an agent model is the best way for Digitel to sell it.

"I'm not infatuated with the agency model, so hopefully Cisco will also have a wholesale model," Tate said. "With agency programs, if the vendor changes the [offering], the customer calls us up and asks, 'What happened?' The customer looks to us, but its out of our control."

Goodwin said Cisco currently does not plan to offer wholesale services, but didn't rule it out for the future.

"The short answer is no, we don't have a plan [to offer wholesales services today], but because the software-as-a-service business is new to us, we're open to different options," Goodwin said. "We arrived at the agency model by going out and looking at other vendors that have been successful offering software as a service, and that seemed to be the most successful approach for them, and so that's where we're starting."

Cisco at the event last week also took the wraps off its Industry Solutions Partner Network, a new channel initiative that encourages partners to team with ISVs and provides a virtual platform in which they can meet and interact.

Separately, Cisco last week launched WebEx Fall 2007, the latest version of collaboration services suite, which includes five applications: WebEx Meeting Center, WebEx Event Center, WebEx Sales Center, WebEx Training Center and WebEx Support Center. The upgrade adds network-based recording capabilities for Web conferencing to enable customers to create archived meetings on their storage networks. The new version also adds 100 usability features across the suite.