Cisco Unveils ‘New Era’ Of Specializations Focused On Solution Delivery

‘We’re now looking for knowledge [and] we’re looking for experience … we’re focused on the partners’ ability to actually deliver the solution. That’s what customers are looking for. And because they’re multi-architectural in nature, you can leverage a lot of the expertise that you already have invested in and have in-house,’ Cisco’s Marc Surplus tells CRN about the tech giant’s new Solution specializations.


Cisco Systems is introducing a new pack of lighter-weight specializations that better match customers’ changing buying behaviors with partners’ ability to deliver comprehensive solutions at less of a cost for partners battling a backlog of business, according to the tech giant.

“These are truly a new era of specializations for us. They are multiarchitectural in nature, so there’s a higher level of expertise the partners [must] have to deliver these solutions. They are very much aligned with Cisco’s innovation priorities, which align to customer priorities,” Marc Surplus, vice president of strategy planning and programs for Cisco’s Global Partner Organization, told CRN at Cisco Partner Summit 2022.

The new Solution specializations, which San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco began rolling out in September, will showcase partners that excel at delivering value with Cisco solutions, including the cross-architectural solutions that are in high demand, Surplus said.

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The three new Solution specializations unveiled at Partner Summit 2022 include Hybrid Cloud Computing, a specialization that showcases partners providing secure hybrid cloud computing experiences at home, in the office or anywhere. Hybrid Cloud Networking, meanwhile, recognizes partners connecting, securing and managing customers’ data, workloads and applications across data centers, edge and multiple clouds. The Hybrid Cloud Software specialization highlights expertise in unifying IT operations with secure, hybrid cloud management software.

Three specializations revealed in September were Full-Stack Observability (FSO) to highlight expertise in centralizing and correlating application performance analytics across the full IT stack, which includes technologies such as AppDynamics, ThousandEyes and Intersight. The Hybrid Work from Office specialization recognizes skills and experience helping customers evolve traditional on-site and off-site work models. Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) highlights partners helping customers to secure and power remote users, devices and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications.

The Solution specializations join the three other categories of Cisco partner specializations, including the Architecture specializations, Cisco Powered Service specializations and Business specializations.

Partners can use the new Solution specializations toward their progress to Gold, a level that formerly required partners to have three Architecture specializations plus the Cisco Customer Experience specialization to achieve Gold, Surplus said.

The cross-architectural approach is what makes the Solution specializations “lighter weight,” Surplus said, because they allow partners to leverage the multiyear investments they’ve already made in architectures.

“For partners that have made those investments, this allows them to get further differentiation [and] showcase their ability to deliver the solutions customers are looking for, with the full weight of Cisco branding behind it,” he said.

Cisco specializations have historically included heavy training and testing.

“We’re now looking for knowledge [and] we’re looking for experience. So, there is a training component, but it’s not as extensive as with the Architecture [specializations]. More importantly, we’re focused on the partners’ ability to actually deliver the solution. That’s what customers are looking for. And because they’re multiarchitectural in nature, you can leverage a lot of the expertise that you already have invested in and have in-house,” he said.

The new specializations will give partners the recognition they need to land new business without taking people out of the game to study and test, Surplus added.

“Partners have a big backlog of business. A lot of projects they’ve got to deliver because of supply chain shortages [and] coming out of COVID and they don’t want their people in nonbillable situations,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Cisco is integrating its partners much earlier in the sales process for things like hybrid work and SASE because no vendor can deliver customer experience and complexity reduction on their own, said Cisco Channel Chief Oliver Tuszik.

“We see that the ecosystem we have already needs to be engaged earlier … and when partners create offers based on our technology and add capabilities and services—even add products—they make more money and are winning bigger deals,” Tuszik said.

Cisco already has 300 newly specialized partners, Surplus said.

Cisco in 2020 made sweeping changes to its partner program to drop the number of disparate programs and center the revamped Cisco Partner Program around four roles that partners are playing for customers: Integrator, Provider, Developer and Advisor.

A Focus On Life Cycle

Another “needle-mover” that Cisco’s partner team unveiled this year at Partner Summit is an update to its Life-Cycle Incentives (LCI) program. The program, which rewards partners for activities leading to better software and subscription adoption, has existed for six years, but the experience was “good, not great,” Surplus said.

To remedy that, Cisco is launching LCI 2.0. It will involve the standardization of all of the company’s software on one consistent life-cycle process for partners, he said.

“In the past, incentives were more back-end-loaded towards delivering the business outcome, [so] we will be shifting the incentives [to make them] more balanced across the full life cycle, so more incentives upstream, because we know when you drive that usage and engagement with the software that leads to greater consumption, that correlates to larger renewals, which is what everybody wants,” Surplus said.

The upgrade will involve an entirely new platform, Surplus added. The platform will give partners visibility into each transaction and deal, including where they are with each deal on the customer life cycle, what incentives they have available to earn, potential use cases, and how Cisco is paying them against the earnings. “They’ll be able to track everything—we’ve not had that visibility in the past. That’s going to be a game-changer for our partners as we think about life-cycle incentives,” he said.

Cisco partners already have access to some of the features, like enhanced visibility and reporting. The tech giant plans to launch the platform in the second half of Cisco’s 2023 fiscal year.