Cisco Channel Chief Oliver Tuszik On 'Partner-Driven' DevNet, Collaboration, And Why Partners Must Focus On Lifecycle

“It's the focus on ‘choosing, using, loving.’ Right now, partners are focused on "choosing," Oliver Tuszik, Cisco's Channel Chief, tells CRN.

Oliver Tuszik On The Record

Cisco channel chief Oliver Tuszik is leading the charge to drive home Cisco's most important message right now: Go after lifecycle opportunities. To that end, the tech giant has been adjusting the way it goes to market with products and services to help customers get the most out of its offerings, and Cisco is also coming to the table with new tools and strategies for the channel, hands-down the largest driver of its business.

Last week at Cisco Live 2019, CRN sat down with Tuszik to get his take on some of the biggest announcements from the show, like the new DevNet certification aimed at software development and DevNet Exchange and how huge these will be for partners. Tuszik also talked partner program consolidation, collaboration, IoT, and hinted about new incentives for partners coming down the pike.

Here are excerpts from the conversation.

How partner-driven were the announcements that were made at this year's Cisco Live, including the DevNet certification and DevNet Exchange?

So partner driven! DevNet is a partner game – in fact, three-quarters of DevNet members are partners. We came up with DevNet because we were thinking about how we add this next-level customer value to our existing portfolio. It's by having everyone able to develop value based on software solutions. We are seeing incredible ideas, from small automation tools to big software solutions being developed.

Why is it so important for partners? The partner can create differentiation. If you develop something that is somehow tailor-made for your customers or for a segment, you create value no one else has made. It creates stickiness and margin because you can build a predictable, long-term profitable business, so it's so key for our existing partners, new partners, and it's even key for partners that will never be our partners -- like ISVs that might not every be interested in selling Cisco switches or data center or collaboration solutions, but they are interested in building on top of our portfolio. I'm showing partners the key areas I believe they need to invest in and one of these is DevNet.

How important is it for Cisco to use the new DevNet certification to recognize partners that have not only work hard to hone their network engineering skills, but those who are also focusing heavily on software development?

Everyone is talking about software-defined networks and everyone was talking about how Cisco would be dead and done because the future is software-defined. The funniest thing is, we took a threat and made it our biggest opportunity. We're leading in SDN and when you talk about software-defined networks, you need to understand how software works. You need to develop this capability, so DevNet is also an enhancement of all our existing certifications. We will have to include hardware in the future -- you need to have strong silicon because you will never have this computing power that a switch needs, especially when it comes to machine learning, etc. But more and more of the functionality and agility will come from software. If you want to be a CCIE and have the reputation that the role has had in the past, you need to add the agile software development piece to this certification. Again, this was the right move to round off our more software-focused offering.

How big is the collaboration opportunity for partners?

I think collaboration opportunity has always been big because we had a phase where we were taking over an old market -- it was the VoIP phase. Now, teams are working differently and when you think about our whole portfolio, it's less VoIP and it's becoming more and more about how teams collaborate with things like AI in the digital age. You hear companies talking about digital transformation and how they are changing their processes, but they want to mainly change how people work together. Our portfolio is an incredible opportunity, and by the way, it's also a huge opportunity for DevNet because we see tons of great solutions being [built] on top of our offerings. An example is a young man in Germany that is diabetic. He developed a solution that uses the WebEx API to read out blood sugar data and share it via WebEx with parents of young children with diabetes. The potential on changing people's lives with WebEx is incredible.

Have partners been asking for more rugged IoT solutions and was that the driving force behind the new product family of ruggedized IoT products?

We are enlarging our reach into IoT so [partners] can manage IoT environments with the same kind of security and automation. It gives partners, who are mainly coming from the IT area, easier access into the operational technology and in addition to the new products in the portfolio, it’s the overall approach that's creating a huge opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, it's still a difficult area because you're selling to a different line of business in a different market, but I believe it will further help them get into the [operational technology] market segment.

How are you working to integrate separate partner programs from the companies you've acquired – like AppDynamics -- into Cisco's larger partner organization so that partners don't feel like they are working in silos?

It's always a big challenge because if you acquire a company, you acquire them because they were doing something incredible. So, you want to ensure that you scale [those programs] and make them better, but you don't destroy anything they were doing before. We try, at the beginning, to find the right balance between letting them do what they were doing great, because they had partners that loved their approach. The interesting thing was when we look at some of these companies, like AppDynamics, 70-80 percent of those partners are also Cisco partners. We need to find out; does it make sense to bring it into our existing programs because it will help them to scale? On the other side, you might have 100 things that are great and you take away two things, everyone will complain. So, we need to find the right balance on this one. I believe for most programs from acquisitions, there is a time where it makes sense to integrate but we should be very careful in not destroying what they were doing incredibly well.

Are you seeing enough partners move into the MSP space right now?

Nearly everyone is now a managed service provider because more and more services and products will be sold as managed services. We see a lot of companies changing and we are seeing a lot of different demand, so we are adapting our portfolio on the one hand and adapting the programs and trying to help these partners with new offering and new structures and growing market. It's a growing market and it will be our future.

How are you helping partners who continue to operate in their tried and true business model of selling hardware and earning large, one-time commissions move to focusing on services and recurring revenue?

The most important thing is for these partners to run their own business. They need to deliver their numbers and profit. We are trying to help them see the opportunity and help them get into those opportunities. We are helping them develop new solutions and we are helping them also understand their unique position within this new business model. This is my story about perform and transform. They need to find the right balance and learn how much they can rely on their existing models and how much they need to invest in future models. I've gotten the question, are we are going to see a lot of partners not capable of following [Cisco]? and I say; "I don't know, but we will give them the opportunity." We want to take every single partner with us, but they might decide to go a different way and they might be successful that way. Nevertheless, I believe I you don’t go into the new lifecycle motion, you will struggle to deliver high customer value.

Any new incentives on the horizon that partners should be on the lookout for?

We are slowly but clearly shifting our VIP and other programs towards lifecycle, which means, as a partner, you will make not only create higher value, you'll also make more money if you don’t end the process after you ship your product. If you can show that [Cisco products and services] are installed, activated, that customers are adopting [features] and that it the opportunity has expanded and then of course renewed -- this is part of the new lifecycle advisor. You will see some shift in how we are supporting DevNet and supporting line of business, and there will be further changes being announced during Partner Summit in November.

It's the focus on "choosing, using, loving." Right now, partners are focused on "choosing." Being honest, a lot of partners are in the lifecycle so they know what it means to get someone to use a product because they sell their project services related to installation and using all the features of the product.

What solution or technology area would you like to see more partners take a look at during the second half of the year?

SD-WAN is important. The other space where we need to double down is security and not only because it’s a business opportunity. I believe you can't sell anything at this time without thinking about security. It needs not to be just an icing on the cake. Security needs to be designed in right from the beginning. We do it a lot during development when we design a product. I believe partners need to do the same to deliver and end to end, highly secured system to their end customers.

What's the take-home message from this year's Cisco Live for the channel?

The main takeaway is twofold. The first is that Cisco is ready to perform in the daily business with you and we will support you. The second is we are investing heavily in supporting partners to jointly transform the business. In the end, it's you as customer or partner that needs to decide how to transform and which area to focus on and how fast they'll move. [Partners] own the responsibly and we own the responsibly to empower and support them on both phases.