Cisco Partner Summit 2019 Preview: Oliver Tuszik Wants Partners To ‘Own Their Edge’

“Just to be very clear, our products are not self-selling, not sell-installing, and not self-value creating. … Without a partner who creates something unique on top, the value won't come out,” Cisco Channel leader Oliver Tuszik told CRN in an exclusive interview.

What’s To Come

Cisco’s channel leader Oliver Tuszik had just taken over the reigns before last year’s partner summit, but this year, Tuszik is ready to show partners how far they have come in such a short time.

This year has been less about evolving technology and new products and more about business transformation. Cisco has been on a mission to drive software and services-based sales with the help of its channel partners, and the company’s focus on customer experience and lifecycle is aligning with customer demand for IT solutions and outcomes, not products.

In an interview ahead of the 2019 Cisco Partner Summit next month, Tuszik sat down with CRN at Cisco’s San Jose, Calif.-based headquarters to talk about what partners can expect from this year’s summit. He also stressed the importance of solution building, DevNet, and why partners must identify and deliver on “what makes them special.”

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What follows are excerpts from the conversation.

What is the main theme of this year's Partner Summit?

The important thing that we want to show to partners is that we have technology you can sell now, but also, that we are leading when it comes to new stuff, like AI, machine learning, and managed services. From my side, I want to start with what we were talking about last year -- the perform and transform theme. We will revisit it, show what we did on the perform side and how we helped partners with different tool improvements, made [enterprise agreements] easier, and so on. We're also going to be telling [partners] on what we are planning to do.

For me, I'm calling it Own YourEdge. When you look at the Cisco point of view and the partner view, they fit perfectly together here. The Cisco point of view, we are talking about getting into new markets, selling solutions and use cases, but we realize this is a much more complex sale and deliver process than before. And we aren't just talking about selling it, we are talking about the full lifecycle more and more. It's about thinking how to create the highest value with a product or solution offering for the end customer and how can you ensure that once they are into new refresh cycle, that they are betting on cisco again, that they renew and expand.

How can partners find their edge?

To do this, you need to add to add something on top of our solutions. Just to be very clear, our products are not self-selling, not sell-installing, and not self-value creating. It's not a package you put into a room that unfolds automatically and the value comes out. The future of IT is getting more and integrated and complex -- this is really the reason why we are moving into the cloud and are coming up with new offerings. But to be clear, without a partner who creates something unique on top, the value won't come out. It used to be about delivering on time and doing a simple installation, and now about more because now not only do you have to implement a product, but a use case. They have the capability to create something that makes them special, something unique and something that this their edge. This is important for us because it helps us get into completely new markets and helps us create a much higher value and ensure the value is throughout the entire lifecycle, but this is something Cisco can't do on its own.

Why is it so Important that partners "own their edge," or find what makes them unique?

It's simple. When you look at partners, they need to always find a way to differentiate from the competition and how to create value, and with this value, some stickiness and margin. If you're one of 20 partners that can ship a [Catalyst 9000] box, your chance that the customer wants to pay a fortune for that is pretty low and you won’t make any margin, but if you create on top of a Cat9K or on top of DNA Center, a solution which might be only some small implementation help or application, you are capable of creating a clear value customers are ready to pay for that turns into a long-term, predictable revenue stream. My main message to partners is to understand your edge, develop your edge, and deliver with makes you unique.

I've been in this situation when I was partner. You realize over time that your value is going down every quarter. Selling a 100 percent-ready product, your chance to build on that is pretty small and your chance to protect that goes to zero. So, we want partners that are unique and have differentiation, those that have built something that makes them special. They might have completely different assets -- we have a partner who has the strongest service capacity in Hungary, there's a partner that understands contact centers really well, and another that understands the pharmaceutical industry, so each of them might have a specialization they can utilize. We might, over time, have partners that don't sell any Cisco at all -- like consulting companies that might develop something on top of Cisco, but don't have any interest in selling a switch or a router.

How is Cisco helping partners stand out in the software-driven world through certifications and enablement resources?

In the past, we were putting partners into a box, like systems integrators or VARs or service providers, and we still have these specializations, but now we are becoming more flexible so [partners] can pick and design the kind of specialization and certification, but also, the kind of enablement [that suits them]. Where we want to go is to allow -- with our help, if they want -- a partner to design or shape their unique position in the market.

We realize that with our software-defined solutions, to design a network in a completely different way, we need more and more partners that are not going to a customer and saying: "OK, you need these switches and routers and a bit of security." We need partners that can design an automatic, software-driven network. The partners that are bundling DevNet -- a solution with things like an application or automation, is normally making higher margins on the deal. It’s a fact. The DevNet certification was important because partners needed to add the software component. It's not that we are saying everyone needs to be an incredible application developer, it's that the network is managed by software more and more, and we need people to understand how to use software to automate and improve networks.

What has been the most surprising thing you learned between last year's Partner Summit and the upcoming one?

If there's one thing, it's confirmation that we clearly see huge support of our overall strategy. We see that our partners bet on us, and they want to understand their role and how they can be part of this journey, but they are also articulating very clearly that they have their own capabilities that we don’t have. Keep in mind, a lot of our partners were selling software before even Cisco found out there was something we could call software and sell. Those partners that understood didn’t call it "lifecycle," but they have been aware there is a life after the product has been sold. [These partners] are doing managed services in different ways: some do big outsourcing projects, some do design and implementation. There's a lot of capabilities and we need to ensure that we, in our approach -- which is different to all the other ones before -- are moving an entire portfolio, including hardware, software, and services, into a lifecycle motion. We want to embed the lifecycle idea into all our products. We will show [partners] how to use data to improve the speed of installation and adoption and show them how to get higher value out of use cases. This is the big change we are driving.

I'm also realizing that Cisco went through a lot of big changes. We brought VoIP into the market, we surprisingly disturbed the entire enterprise server market when we came up with UCS, and the last big thing was our intent-based networking [strategy]. But now, it's more than a tech evolution. We are changing with our partners the way we sell, what we sell, and to whom we sell, which is a big transformation we jointly need to follow. It's not happening over the weekend, but it’s a transformation we are leading to adapt to the change in demand and the way customers want to buy IT.