Cisco continues SMB push with new UC offerings, program

Cisco UC 300NEW ORLEANS – Continuing its charge into expanding the small business space, Cisco Systems introduced a pair of new small business phone systems and a new concierge program for its small business partners.

Unveiled at its Cisco Partner Summit 2011 conference here, The Cisco Unified Communications 320 series is designed for companies with 24 or fewer users. The UC 320 includes features like voicemail (with voicemail-to-e-mail support), wireless networking, auto attendant and remote access, and carries a price tag of approximately $165 per user for a typical deployment.

“This is a huge opportunity for our partners in a huge segment of the market for them to go after,” said Barry O’Sullivan, senior vice president of Cisco’s voice technology group. “We’ve heard that they want to go after that opportunity, but need products that are easy to install, configure and maintain and give them great profitability opportunities.”

Rick Moran vice president of small business marketing at Cisco, said he sees two distinct target markets for the new telephony products – with major telco partners and with the multitude of smaller data partners serving small business clients. It’s because of that latter group that the company has decided to make the 320 line available to all of its registered partners for the first six months. Beyond that time, access to the products will be limited to the company’s small business specialized partners.

Moran described the UC 320 lineup as crucial to Cisco because it’s the company’s first purpose-built products for the low end of the small business market, a field where he figures Cisco’s presence is long overdue.

Plus, the 320 equipment is largely compatible with its other small business telephony products, such as the Unified Call Manager Business Edition 3000, also introduced here. The 3000 support up to 300 users at up to 10 sites, and includes features that allow users to share their desk phone and cell phone via the same number, as well as softphone functionality and click-to-call address book integration.

Moran said that to move up from 320 to 3000, a growing business has to replace the core box, but the rest of the investment, particularly around handsets, moves right along with it.

Partner Advisor service

On the support and enablement side, the partner also introduced a new program for smaller partners called Partner Advisor, a sort of concierge service for the company’s smaller partners. Andrew Sage, vice president of worldwide small business and midmarket sales at Cisco, said the program will be offered up to some 24,000 small business-focused partners, particularly those who are new to the networking giant.

“They want to talk to a person when they have an issue, they want someone to own their problem through to resolution – and we can do exactly that,” he said. “We’re standing behind our partners and delivering support in the way they have asked us.”

The program will offer phone and chat-based support to help partners with issues like onboarding, acceleration, understanding the company’s various channel programs, choosing the right products and finding the right post-sales resources. It is initially being run through call centres in Raleigh, NC and Lisbon, Portugal.

The company has identified 24,000 initial partners worldwide for the program – with one third of that number coming from each of U.S. and Canada, Europe and Emerging Markets. Currently, the program is available in the U.S. and parts of Europe, with intention to roll it out globally in seven languages altogether. Moran said he expected the program to launch in Canada by the summer.

A fragmented opportunity

Dave O’Callaghan, vice president of worldwide commercial sales at Cisco, said that together, small business (2-100 seats) and midmarket (101-1,000) represent a total addressable market of $33 billion (U.S.) for Cisco, and that currently the company gets “a little less than $8 million” of that total.

“We see the small and midmarket business growing rapidly,” he said. “To date, it’s been very fragmented, and there’s a great opportunity to consolidate the market with architecture and innovations that can be rapidly adopted. These customers are ready to buy when presented a quality solution from our partners.”

Moran said that in the last year, the company has significantly picked up the innovation in the space, launching new versions of almost its entire small business lineup and adding key new categories including networked storage.

So what’s next from the small business engine at Cisco? Having watched the company’s success in the data centre, Moran says he’s thinking about small business computer opportunities. It’s a while off from introducing anything resembling Unified Computing System for small business, but watch this space.

“There’s definitely a market there, and we can address it,” Moran said with a smile.