Cisco Partner Summit: Channel Chief Bahr Talks Software Focus, Google, And 'The Next Chapter' Of Cisco's Partner Program

What To Expect At Cisco Partner Summit 2017

Thousands of partners will be flocking to Dallas this week for Cisco Partner Summit 2017 to hear firsthand about the networking giant's vision and strategic plan following a busy week of acquisitions as well as a blockbuster partnership with Google Cloud.

Ahead of Partner Summit this week, Wendy Bahr, senior vice president of Cisco's Global Partner Organization, spoke to CRN about what partners should expect to hear as well as some surprises in store for its channel community including a special guest who will be on stage with Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins.

Cisco Partner Summit is taking place at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Conversion Center in Dallas from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2. CRN will be providing full coverage during the event.

What's something brand new at Partner Summit 2017 that partners should know?

For the first time ever at Partner Summit, we have an Impact Session dedicated to network programmability. We see that as a huge opportunity for our partners to write applications and programs to the Network Intuitive [strategy[. We also have a really compelling Impact Session on security and another session on multi-cloud, which will tie into our Google announcements.

What's one of the biggest announcements you'll be making on stage?

You're going to hear me talk about writing the next chapter of our partner program. That evolution of what has been the world-class partner program in our industry. What we've built [over] the last two decades of the relationship with our partner base, I'm excited to write that next chapter of the partner program.

Are you going to be talking about Value Incentive Program changes?

We are clearly going to be talking about the evolution of VIP and how it's going to continue to support and provide profitable growth for our partners.

What is the partner strategy for your BroadSoft acquisition?

I don't want to steal Rowan Trollope's [senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's IoT and Applications group] thunder before the show. But what I can say is whether you're talking about BroadSoft or our teamwork with Google or acquisition of more artificial intelligence and machine learning – it goes at the forefront of leading this digital transformation. You can see it across things like our intent to acquire cloud-based companies like BroadSoft, acquire machine learning or AI companies, our opportunity to team with a company like Google who [has] a Google Cloud platform that's incorporating machine learning and analytics.

What partners can expect to hear from us at Partner Summit is exactly how all of those things are presenting enormous opportunities for partners to differentiate their value proposition and continue to add profitability while they satisfy these new changing requirements that our customers have.

Can you give me one surprise in store for partners attending?

I'll give you a little teaser and say Chuck [Robbins, pictured] will have a big special guest on stage with him at his opening keynote at Partner Summit. If you're watching virtually, please tune in because it's going to be an exciting keynote from our CEO. That's Wednesday morning. … It certainly will be an action-filled week.

What will Robbins be speaking about on stage?

Chuck is going to lay out the strategy and vision that our partners tell us in our pre-surveys, [which is] that the most important thing they come to hear about at Partner Summit is what is Cisco's strategic direction -- where are we seeing the opportunities and how we are evolving.

What will be the central theme at Cisco Partner Summit 2017?

Clearly, this idea of digital transformation continues to be the biggest opportunity in our industry. At the same time, it is creating some challenges, but it's creating market opportunities for partners and customers alike. We are doing a lot of positioning where we're looking at this from the customer's perspective, using the customer's lens as we think about the innovation and technology and the opportunity that it presents to our partners. Cisco has been operating at the forefront of the digital transformation for years.

What's another big partner area that you'll be focusing on other than digital transformation?

You've heard me talk on stage about software, but 2018, this Partner Summit is going to be the break-out year. It's really time to acknowledge how our most profitable partners are capitalizing on software adoption. The key is to unlock the true value of the Network Intuitive and the world of many clouds. Software is such a unique opportunity for a partner to gain tremendous relevance and stickiness with the customer. We’re seeing it drive profitable growth for the partners that truly embraced customer success in a land, adapt, expand and renew model. I'm going to be diving into that and talking about what we're doing to help enable our partner community.

What should partners be thinking about heading into Dallas?

What we're going to be spending a lot of time talking about is how we are selling differently and approaching opportunities differently. We need to continue to evolve and change -- from artificial intelligence and machine learning, to the world of many clouds and the Network Intuitive, to the opportunities in software – what I want partners to take away from this Partner Summit is the opportunities are truly unlimited. The growth and profitability are at our fingertips, but we must change the way we embrace, enable and deliver on those opportunities. … We mainly want to focus on how we're going to help our partners get under the skin of the challenges that are facing our customers.

What's the channel message of Partner Summit 2017?

There's never been a better time to own the opportunity in the digital transformation that we're going through with our customers. The Partner Summit is going to be completely focused on how we're supporting, enabling and rewarding our partners who are going on this journey with us and taking advantage of the immense opportunities we see in this landscape.

I want partners to know that while this is a shift, the market opportunities are built on the foundation that we have spent the last two decades building. Cisco and our partners have this incredible, strategic advantage for our customers in the way we provide value and how we leverage each other's skill set. We want to build upon that foundation.