Cisco To Partners: It's Time To Team Up With App Developers, ISVs

As line-of-business managers become the new face of IT buyers, solution providers need to change the way they sell. And, according to Cisco Systems, partners' success in navigating that change hinges heavily on the relationships they have with software providers.

The networking giant this year increasingly is encouraging solution providers to forge new partnerships with app developers and ISVs to ensure they're targeting line-of-business managers with the business-specific solutions and applications they need.

According to Steve Benvenuto, senior director of Business Development for Strategy, Planning and Partner Programs at Cisco, these partnerships also ensure solution providers can sell potential customers on business outcomes, rather than just technical speeds and feeds -- a skill that's becoming increasingly important as IT budgets move outside the office of the CIO.

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"If you are a partner and you understand the Cisco architecture and have deep expertise in that, the CIO trusts you and you have a long-term relationship," Benvenuto said in a recent interview with CRN. "Now, to say that, all of sudden, the line of business is controlling the budget, [partners] need to have some sort of financial application that is actually integrated with the Cisco infrastructure to be able to go in and say, 'Here's what this means to finance.' "

For those partners who don't have this kind of line-of-business or software expertise in-house, ISV partnerships are a great, low-investment way to fill that gap, Benvenuto said.

Cisco has taken several steps this year to facilitate the match-making between its traditional channel partners and ISVs. In March, Cisco introduced its Solution Partner Program, aimed at attracting ISVs with industry-specific apps that can run on Cisco infrastructures.

Cisco also has what it calls a Solutions Marketplace, an online portal where solution providers can search for a particular application or ISV partner they need to move forward with a deal.

Cisco vets each ISV and app developer before including them in the marketplace to test and certify that their solutions can run smoothly in Cisco environments. This process, Benvenuto said, saves partners the headache of having to perform that testing on their own.

"It's a win for the ISVs, because they want customer access -- some of them are midsized and smaller companies -- and it's a win for our current partners because they are looking for these business-relevant applications," Benvenuto said. "So we are finding a lot of success in that ISV initiative just for that reason of being able to speak to and deliver business outcomes."

The Cisco Solution Partner Program today includes 800 vendors and the marketplace hosts more than 1,700 Cisco-compatible solutions, Cisco said.

Waheed Choudhry, president and COO of Nexus, a Valencia, Calif.-based Cisco Gold partner acquired by systems integration giant Dimension Data in April, said Nexus already has leveraged the Cisco marketplace to forge new relationships with ISVs.

"Finding some of these ISVs is not necessarily the easiest of things as a partner, unless you have people really focused in on that," Choudhry said. "So Cisco, I think, is really bringing a lot of value by opening up their APIs, having developers being able to build to those APIs and drive their application solutions. And by creating this marketplace ... it gives us a consolidated place to go to bring these new partnerships to the table."

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In addition to partnering with ISVs that create specific applications for lines of business, such as finance or marketing or HR, Choudhry said Nexus, above all, leverages these partnerships to deliver software designed exclusively for vertical markets.

In the health-care market, for instance, Nexus has partnered with Extension, a maker of medical alert systems and software. In the education arena, Nexus has teamed up with Pearson to help streamline the delivery of digital textbooks and other resources to schools, and with SingleWire, which provides voice applications that alert schools to any potential security issues.

"We are having to have different conversations, so making investments in industry-relevant individuals and being able to go in and to really speak to the client about their business in their language -- that's where it's all got to start," Choudhry said. "If it doesn't start there, you are back to selling speeds and feeds."

Herndon, Va.-based ePlus, another Cisco Gold partner, also is leveraging new ISV partnerships and the Cisco marketplace to target specific vertical markets and customers in line-of-business roles. Mark Melvin, CTO of ePlus, said ePlus has specifically partnered with ISVs in health care, such as Meditech, and in the financial trading sector.

"We have definitely expanded what we are doing [with ISVs]," Melvin said. "The market almost requires it at this point. Customers want one hand to shake."

Another ISV partner working with ePlus is ScienceLogic, a provider of IT monitoring and management software. ePlus uses ScienceLogic's software alongside its Cisco-focused managed services offerings to quickly identify and resolve any end-customer issues.

"We do a lot of work with [ScienceLogic]. We do joint development with them and we build our managed services platform with them," Melvin said. "They’ve been a great partner for us and have really paved the way for how a lot of our business is done today."

ScienceLogic, for its part, said its participation in the Cisco marketplace has played a significant role in helping it gain recognition and develop new partnerships within the Cisco solution provider community.

"When companies like ePlus or an equivalent are searching for those technologies, they know that we are an established partner, that we have met the requirements, and that we are aligned with the [Cisco] road map," said Erik Rudin, vice president of business development and alliances at ScienceLogic. "They can trust and accelerate their on-boarding of new technologies with marketplace partners."