I have attended the Cisco Partner Summit for the past several years. Cisco, like many of its larger competitors such as Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Lenovo and Dell Technologies, leverages the IT distribution channel for scale and efficiency in sales operations. However, Cisco is one of the few companies to hold an event exclusively focusing on its channel partner community. I can appreciate this effort because I spent many years as a channel sales and marketing professional.
When you’re in channel roles like that, one of the biggest challenges is vying for partner attention and convincing these organizations to lead with your company’s products and services as they talk with their customers. From my perspective, the Cisco Partner Summit 2023 performed well to that end. This year, the event was held in Miami Beach, Florida—a picturesque area in Miami dotted with Art Deco architecture and beautiful white sand beaches. Thanks to my advisory relationship with Cisco, I was allowed to spend time with Cisco executives and many of the company’s partners; in this post, I want to share my insights on what I found most compelling at the event. Note that although Cisco is my client at Moor Insights & Strategy, no one at Cisco had input into the analysis in this article.
Channel Leadership Transition And Partner Compensation Consolidation
Until recently, Oliver Tuszik had led Cisco’s global partner sales organization for five years. Tuszik has an infectious personality and brings tremendous energy to the company’s leadership ranks. I have had the pleasure of getting to know him personally, and it was no surprise that after another executive left the company, Tuszik was asked to lead Cisco’s EMEA business unit, especially given that he grew up in Germany and has spent a significant portion of his career in Europe.
Tuszik left big shoes to fill, and Cisco used its partner summit to announce the appointment of channel veteran Rodney Clark as his successor in the partner leadership role. Most recently, Clark served as chief commercial officer at Johnson Controls, but before that stint he spent 24 years at Microsoft, where he was responsible for channel sales and operations. Clark seems like a good fit at Cisco, especially as it continues to transform into a software company and offer more of its networking and security infrastructure solutions on a subscription basis. During his tenure at Microsoft, Cark oversaw a critical transition to perpetual licensing, an experience that should provide a strong foundation for helping Cisco move toward realizing recurring revenue and renewal.
In addition to Cisco’s channel leadership transition, the company announced a future consolidation of its partner compensation programs. Historically, Cisco has rewarded its partners through a three-tiered program. Although well-intended, this has created complexity from the perspective of tracking, proof of performance and redemption. By merging three programs into one over the next several quarters—especially with partner input—Cisco could simplify things significantly and eliminate any remaining channel sales friction.
New Security Solutions
Any event like this would be incomplete without product and solution announcements, and Cisco delivered on this front, too. First, Jeetu Patel, who leads the company’s collaboration and security business, spoke about increasing the company’s investment in security. Unsurprisingly, given the current threat landscape, Cisco wants to vie for more enterprise security share-of-wallet. The company has formidable competitors in Palo Alto Networks and Microsoft, and one could argue that Cisco is behind both of those companies in the marketplace. However, with the rise of generative AI and an opportunity to consolidate security point solutions to counteract tool sprawl, Cisco is on the right track, given its recent focus on the subject.
At the partner summit, the company announced new security suites that address three critical use cases—user, cloud and breach protection. If Cisco can execute on this plan, it should provide the proper levels of efficacy, user experience and ROI across multi-cloud, private infrastructure and security point solutions for security operations stakeholders.
Expanding Observability and Sustainability
Cisco also continues to lean into observability; at the event, it announced seven new partner modules that aim to help its channel sellers build business practices that leverage observable telemetry for customers. The new modules focus on five areas—business insights, SAP visibility, networking, machine learning operations and service level objectives and sustainability. From my perspective, observability will unlock a host of new use cases; this was the subject of an article I wrote in September about Cisco’s intent to acquire Splunk.
While the benefits of observability for improving security and network resiliency are apparent, the benefits for raising sustainability might not be. Sustainability KPIs in general could stand improvement, given they are often difficult to quantify and measure. Cisco is addressing this challenge through two new capabilities: Climatiq, which facilitates carbon emission tracking, and Cisco CX Sustainability Insights, which provides a consolidated view that enables near real-time visualization, measurement, estimation and reporting of sustainability indicators. Both of these can be powerful, given that they equip organizations to optimize workload operations while doing the same for datacenter energy consumption.
To enable deeper partner participation with Cisco customers who are embarking on a sustainability journey, the company is also launching a Sustainability Estimator in late November. The tool promises to provide Cisco sellers with insights into energy savings, emissions and cost reductions and environmental impact that can be realized through modernizing IT infrastructure. This capability is a win-win, given that it provides a tool to unlock incremental sales opportunities for Cisco and its channel partners while providing Cisco customers with several options that measurably reduce their carbon footprints.
Cisco Partner Highlights
During the event, I spent time with Logicalis, a Cisco partner focused on building a strong IT practice that leverages Cisco’s sustainability offerings mentioned above. Based on its efforts, Logicalis received the inaugural Sustainability Partner of the Year award at this year’s event. From what I’ve seen, Logicalis is differentiating itself by creating incremental selling opportunities for Cisco solutions, but more than that, it is taking “tech for good” to new levels by genuinely helping its customers reduce carbon emissions globally.
I also spent time with NTT at the Cisco Partner Summit. Cisco and NTT can trace their relationship back 30 years, which is astounding in the tech world. In speaking with NTT leadership, I learned that the company was instrumental in codeveloping Cisco’s CX programmatic approach to partner sales enablement. This alliance represents a significant proof point for the effectiveness of partnerships in tech sales. Customers benefit by getting the right solutions; the two companies point to the iconic brands—including Heineken, Royal Caribbean and many others—that they have helped accelerate their digital transformation journeys.
The Cisco Partner Summit is one of the events that I look forward to attending every year. It celebrates the innovation and customer success that can be created when top-class IT infrastructure from a company of Cisco’s stature is married with the expert solution integration and deployment of diligent channel partners. I left this year’s event struck by how profound many of the new solutions could be for leveling the cybersecurity playing field while also reducing global carbon emissions.
I’ve written before about Cisco’s place in the observability market and what it means. And I really like what the company is doing with sustainability, which seems to go beyond environmental hype to deliver real improvements. At the end of the day, tech can be used for good, and what Cisco is doing in collaboration with its international partner community is a model that could and should be replicated industrywide.