Partners: 4 Wishes For Cisco

Cisco Systems has a lot on its channel plate.

The company this week is hosting its annual Cisco Partner Summit in Honolulu, an event expected to draw 2,000 partner attendees representing 1,000 solution providers from 90 countries around the world.

At the event, the San Jose, Calif.-based company is expected to rally its solution providers around the collaboration and Web 2.0 flag, focusing on unified communications and data center technology, where it will launch new products and programs to help partners tackle enterprise networks.

Ahead of the conference, we checked in with several solution providers to see what topped their Cisco wish lists. Here's what a few of them would like to see:

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1. Help Finding IT Talent

Cisco channel partners say they're no strangers to the IT talent crunch, and they're hoping Cisco can help them do something about it.

"We're at the point where we're getting ready to hire. We need more Cisco talent and we're short on Microsoft and VMware talent," said Billy Merchant, state contracts manager for Prosys, a solution provider based in Norcross, Ga. "It's hard to find good people, Cisco people especially, with voice experience."

One thing partners said could help would be changes to Cisco's renewals for partner specializations and certifications. Tom Shaw, president and founder of Wide Area Management Services (WAMS), a Santa Clara, Calif.-based solution provider said he'd like to see Cisco extend the renewal for specializations and certifications beyond one year, into a multi-year model. He said annual renewals make it easier for other organizations to come in and take certified employees, making it difficult for him to fill open positions with qualified staff.

"If I've made that investment, I'd like more time to backfill that position," he said.

Cisco has already launched a talent initiative and says more programs and tools will be launched this week at Partner Summit.

"The No. 1 issue for our partners when I ask the question 'If Cisco could do one thing to help you grow faster, what would it be,' they identify talent as that issue, and that's around the world, not just in the U.S.," said Keith Goodwin, senior vice president of worldwide channels at Cisco in a recent interview. "We've built out a number of programs, tools, job fairs, etc. to really help the partners in this area."

2. More Clarity Around Cisco/Linksys SMB Efforts

Cisco's made much over the past several years of its focus on the small business market. It has developed new products, launched recruiting campaigns through its distribution partners and last year launched its Select certification, a new partner certification level aimed at SMB partners. But some partners say Cisco's efforts aren't hitting the solution provider masses.

"They say that they're an SMB player and that SMB is important, and they've built a neat channel program around it, but its still talk at this point. I don't see a lot of differentiating action from them," said Derek Gabriel, owner of Gabriel Phoenix Communications, Kaneohe, HI, a Cisco Registered partner that is focused on the SMB space. "There's been talk of burying the Linksys name, but I think if Cisco said 'Linksys is our SMB company, our SMB brand,' I think that would be a smart decision."

Gabriel says he has an excellent relationship with Cisco's Linksys division, but hasn't found the same level of success working with Cisco itself. "We've been a partner for over a year through distribution and I've never gotten a call from anyone at Cisco asking what they can do to help me," Gabriel said.

NEXT: Struggles to Go Global

Given Cisco's current strategy around SMB branding, Gabriel and other Linksys fans are likely to be disappointed. "I think you are going to see Linksys develop into a Cisco brand over time and it will evolve in logical steps -- Linksys, and then Linksys - The Division of Cisco, then a Cisco-type brand," said John Chambers, chairman and CEO of Cisco, in a recent interview. "And part of the reason for that is it's no longer about a device in the home, it's about a home architecture. It's no longer about the home connected only within the home, it's about how does the home connect to us as we travel? It's how does the home connect to us in our business life? It's about literally a connected lifestyle regardless of where we are in the world, best set up for an architectural play."

3. More Guidance for Partners on Strategic Planning

Cisco's talked a lot in recent months about the importance of partnerships, not only its own partnerships with solution providers but those between partners themselves. A big portion of this week's Partner Summit will be devoted to sharing Cisco's strategy for using collaboration and Web 2.0 technologies to improve the working relationship the vendor has with the channel and to bring partners together with each other.

That's all well and good: In fact, it's essential, says Gary Berzack, CTO and COO of eTribeca , a solution provider in New York, that regularly works with upwards of 40 other Cisco partners per month.

But Berzack says there's an opportunity for Cisco to lend a hand before solution providers get to that point: "Cisco needs to act like a guidance counselor, like 'Go see what interests you, what you want to be when you grow up ... Let's take an aptitude test. Looks like you're good at Vista but not at Microsoft. Maybe you should spend time with this partner. Let's set up a meeting. Then go have that meeting and check back in with me."

4. Enable Partners to Go Global

Another item on Shaw's wish list is the ability for WAMS to offer services with a more global reach. WAMS operates in 47 countries and manages more than 20,000 IP devices.

"When I have a contract with Cisco, I'm restricted to supporting services in a single theater, in our case North America," he said. "On my wish list is the ability to provide global services to small customers."

Shaw continued: "It's restrictive to manage and service my customers that have a global reach. I'd like to see partner contracts that are global in reach and not restricted by theater."

Andrew R. Hickey contributed to this story.