The 10 Most Important Products And Channel Incentives Unveiled At Cisco Partner Summit 2017

Cisco's Most Exciting News

Cisco Partner Summit 2017 this week was overflowing with new offerings and strategic channel changes that had partners cheering – from a more streamlined partner program to Google Cloud chief Diane Greene making a surprise visit to address the thousands of solution providers in attendance.

Approximately 3,500 people flocked to the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center in Dallas to hear about the networking giant's revamped channel strategy, cloud vision and CEO Chuck Robbins' keynote address regarding Cisco's road map. "Partners have been, and will remain, at the heart of this company as long as I'm here," Robbins said.

Here are the 10 top highlights from Cisco Partner Summit 2017.

New VIP Incentives

The San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant unleashed two new Value Incentive Programs for partners to drive profitability around software revenue. VIP Activation adds back-end rebates for Cisco One and Digital Network Architecture (DNA) Advantage suites, as well as for Cisco Identity Services Engines (ISE) and Cisco's network visibility and security offering, Stealthwatch when a partner turns on software inside a customer's environment. Cisco also launched VIP Annuity, a program that gives solution providers up-front rebates for landing, renewing or expanding Software-as-a-Service deals. The program applies to enterprise networking, data center, security and collaboration sales with performance-based recurring revenue rebates.

The New AI-Powered Spark Voice Assistant

By leveraging its acquisition of artificial intelligence startup MindMeld this year, Cisco unveiled a product that will be included in Cisco Spark and brings the technology of popular consumer products like Amazon Echo into the business world, according to Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Applications Group.

The new Spark Assistant is an all-purpose voice assistant that includes machine learning, speech recognition, dialogue management, speaker tracking, intelligent proximity, language understanding and face recognition technology to the Cisco Spark platform. Spark Assistant allows users to call, start or end a meeting, as well as join meeting rooms without any typing or dialing by saying, for example, "Hey, Spark. Call my meeting room."

Spark Room 70 Hardware

Cisco also unveiled new Cisco Spark Room 70 hardware that will replace one of Cisco's top-selling video systems, the MX800. The Spark Room includes 70-inch, 4K screens with both single- and dual-screen models available as well as double the amount of cameras compared with the MX800. The product will be the first to include the Spark Assistant. Spark Assistant will soon be implemented across the entire Cisco Spark portfolio.

DNA Center With Meraki

Cisco had partners cheering during the summit by unveiling DNA Center integration with Cisco Meraki, making it possible to have single-pane-of-glass management for Meraki and its traditional on-premises offerings. DNA Center is the company's centralized network monitoring and management dashboard, while Meraki is its cloud-based wireless, routing and security management solution. The integration will give customers one place to manage and visualize all of their Cisco networks. The first integration will become available within the next few weeks and will provide visibility into integrated networks, while management capabilities will be available with future updates of DNA Center.

Network Intuitive Specialization

Cisco unveiled in June what Robbins dubbed as "the next-generation network" with Network Intuitive – a networking system that anticipates actions, stops security treats and continues to evolve and learn through machine learning, artificial intelligence and data analytics. To enable partners to better understand and sell the platform, Cisco unveiled the Master Networking Specialization that emphasizes skills around analytics, programmability and automation. The new specialization becomes available in March.

Google's Diane Greene 'Counting On' Cisco Partners

In a surprise visit at Partner Summit, Google Cloud leader Diane Greene went on stage alongside Robbins to tell partners that Google will be depending on Cisco partners to drive the new joint offering between the two companies.

"This is a huge opportunity [for partners]. We are counting on all of you. The customers, they need help with modernizing their applications," said Greene. "Our success is completely tied to your success.

"This is a complex world that we're entering and we can't do it alone. So partnering with Cisco to get the full breadth of management and security as people build on-premise and then at their own pace they can move to the cloud, they can modernize their apps – you can help them do all of this. We really couldn't do it without partnering with Cisco," she said.

Cisco Teams With ConnectWise

In a move to create a "managed service in a box," the networking leader teamed with ConnectWise on an offering that enables MSPs to monitor and manage Cisco's cloud-based solutions under a single pane of glass.

ConnectWise Unite with Cisco is managed services software that combines Cisco Spark, Meraki, Cisco Umbrella and Stealthwatch Cloud under a single interface. Partners will no longer need to log into separate cloud solutions for billing or to monitor subscriptions. Instead of working with disparate systems and portals, MSPs will be able to operate from one pane of glass with Unite.

Migration Incentive Program

Cisco launched a program incentivizing partners to sell newer technologies into Cisco's installed base. The Migration Incentive Program (MIP) provides partners with an incremental discount on all hardware, software and services migration opportunities.

"This is applicable across all technologies," said Marc Surplus, vice president of strategy, planning and programs for Cisco's Global Partner Organization. "Then it provides a rebate on the back end to get that old gear out of the market, so it doesn't go in the gray market."

Streamlined Partner Program

Cisco revamped its overall partner program with a focus on simplification. Cisco simplified its deal registration process by streamlining the approval process and lowering the amount of input needed. The company is consolidating its 15 hunting and teaming program tracks to just two. The networking giant is also changing its specialization portfolio, including the retirement of all Advanced Technology Specializations except for Advanced Video. Cisco has also reduced its 10 Express-level specializations to one and cut the number of Advanced Specializations from 13 to five Advanced Architecture Specializations.

Robbins On Key Elements Of Cisco's Transition

Robbins' keynote at Partner Summit focused on five key pillars that will enable Cisco and its channel to help customers "build a foundation for how they roll out their digital strategies over the next few years."

Some of the key strategies center on the need to tie and sell security and networking solutions together in a single architecture, embracing a multi-cloud world, and "reinvent networking" by leveraging newer Cisco technologies that focus on data, analytics, automation and applications that help customers solve business outcomes.

"Partners have been, and will remain, at the heart of this company as long as I'm here," Robbins said during his keynote.