Ciena Plans Partner Program Redesign To Focus On Services, Value-Based Approach

Ciena is updating its BizConnect partner program next month to place a greater focus on services and what its channel chief Nigel Williams calls partner "self-sufficiency."

The bulk of the changes being made in November are meant to transform BizConnect from being a predominately volume-based program to one based on value, according to Williams, vice president, global channels and strategic alliances at Ciena.

"This is definitely an evolution to a more value-based channel strategy, and there are couple things we are building in programmatically into the BizConnect program that aren't there today," Williams told CRN. "It's really about building in key elements that partners have told us they value, like services and self-sufficiency."

[Related: Emerging Vendors 2013: Networking And VoIP ]

Sponsored post

Williams, a well-known networking channel executive thanks to stints at Cisco and Level 3 Communications, was tapped by Ciena last year to oversee its BizConnect program. Williams said the program today hosts roughly 250 partners worldwide.

Ciena, a Hanover, Md.-based network infrastructure specialist, has more tightly aligned itself to the IT and telecom channels since its 2009 acquisition of Nortel's former Metro Ethernet Networks (MEN) business. While roughly 80 percent of Ciena's business is still focused on the carrier space, Williams said the company is still gunning to grow its enterprise footprint, with BizConnect being at the heart of that effort.

"We are going to continue to maintain a focus on selling to carriers; that's our core business," Williams said. "But we see equal opportunity and double-digit growth in the enterprise space."

Several of the changes being made to the BizConnect program starting next month, Williams said, are meant to make partners more self-sufficient. This, he said, will be achieved by having partners collaborate with Ciena earlier on in the sales cycle and arming them with new network design and quoting tools for greater control over customer accounts and infrastructures.

Ciena already has design and quoting tools in place, but Williams said the revamped versions rolling out this year will be easier to use and were designed entirely based on partner feedback. Ciena also plans to offer more robust training programs around these tools, enabling more partners to use them.

"What we have heard from the partner community is that they wanted some level of increased self-sufficiency and greater enablement, especially around the areas of design tools and quoting tools," Williams said.

NEXT: Ciena's Services Push

Ciena also hopes to drive partner self-sufficiency through a new program called growth-incentive exchange. Through the program, Ciena outlines its own growth objectives for a specific vertical market, technology segment or geographical region and then opens up that information to partners. Partners can then leverage that information to create a business plan targeting those same growth areas. Ciena can co-develop or review partners' business plans, as well, Ciena's Williams said.

"It gives [solution providers] the ability to come back to us with ideas and business plans for where they feel they can accelerate growth and outpace the market in collaboration with Ciena," Williams said.

Bill Xydias, director of marketing at Integration Partners, a Lexington, Mass.- based solution provider, said he's glad to see Ciena moving toward this value- rather than volume-based approach.

"A lot of companies in the past have put an emphasis on just revenue. That's not partnering," Xydias said. "It's really a two-way street, and Ciena is one of those partners that understands that."

Xydias also said he welcomes the opportunity to collaborate more closely with Ciena earlier in the sales process.

"What happens for a lot of companies that just focus on revenue and sales is that [the partnership] becomes very short-term. And, nobody wants to just give their manufacturer [partner] forecasts." Xydias said. "They want to talk about what are we doing strategically, what can we do to increase revenue together, and what are some things we could do better."

The updated BizConnect program, according to Williams, will also place a greater emphasis on services. Williams said Ciena is taking steps to more tightly integrate its own services organization, which offers consulting, maintenance, installation and other "first-line response" services, within the BizConnect program.

This alignment, Williams said, will ultimately allow partners to go to market with Ciena-branded services.

"The further [solution providers] are able to take the call and resolve the issue, clearly, the more they are able to charge, the higher the profitability and the more stickiness they have with the customer," Williams said.

As part of this new services-driven approach, Ciena is creating a set of best practices and guidelines based on what the company has learned while managing its own services business and providing those guidelines to partners through a third-party, automated tool.

Williams said the end goal is to require all of Ciena's top-tier partners -- meaning those at its Diamond level -- to have services organizations in place by November of next year.

Williams said only a "low percentage" of Ciena partners have a services organization today. But, there is a sense of urgency among almost all partners, he said, to develop some sort of services play, especially with the rise of cloud. "A lot of partners out there are realizing that business models are changing and they have to react to that," he said.