Cisco channel program changes highlight architectures

HandshakeCisco Systems Monday announced changes to its partner program, shifting the partner specializations that determine the tiering of its partners to match the broad “architectural plays” around which it goes to market.

Under the new program, three new architectural specializations – Advanced Borderless Networks; Advanced Collaboration and Advanced Data Centre – replace a series of advanced technology specializations.

“This is an important evolution to our channel program, and not the kind of change we make very often,” said Ricardo Moreno, senior director of strategy, planning and programs for the worldwide partner organization at Cisco. “All of these [architectures] require way more than boxes to be adopted and to be realized.”

And there’s a lot to realize. Cisco estimates the three new specialization areas as collectively worth $120 billion — $49 billion for borderless network, $42 billion for data centre and $35 billion for collaboration. And then there’s the additional $41 billion in partner services on top of that figure.

“Partners can choose between going deep in a technology or broad on the portfolio,” Moreno said of the revised structure.

Here’s how the new tiers will work:

  • Gold Partners will need to have all three architectural specializations. (Previously, Gold partners needed two Advanced Technology specializations.)
  • Silver Partners will require either one technology and one architectural specialization or two architectural specializations. (Previously, Silver status required two Advanced Technology specializations.)
  • Premier Partners will either have to have Express Foundation specialization or one architectural Specialization.
  • Select Partners will still require the small business specialization.
  • The company will still offer various depths (Entry, Express, Advanced and Master) around its technology specializations. All architectural specializations will be Advanced level.

Despite the increased expectations of partners, Moreno said that on average, it will cost about $50,000 less for partners to make Gold status under the program, because the training for the program has been rebuilt to emphasize what’s most important. Existing Gold partners will need between 12 and 150 hours of training. The range is that large, Moreno said, because the bulk of the hours are in the Data Centre specialization. “If you’re already in the data centre, you’re almost there,” he quipped.

Much of the training will be available for free, Moreno said, and new Cisco online labs will make practical parts of the training effort easier to access. The company will also offer up to $5,000 in learning credits to the first 500 partners to register for the new program.

Here’s how it will all go down:

  • The specifics of the program become available today.
  • In August 2011, Cisco will start accepting new applications for the new roles.
  • By August 2012, architectural specializations will be required for top tier statuses. The exact date for a given partner will depend on their anniversary/renewal date within the partner program.

“Partners will have between 16 and 27 months to get ready for this,” Moreno said.

Training the trainers

At the same time, the company is changing the curriculum for its network of some 450 learning partners worldwide. At the base will be a network of Learning Partner Associate, while the new top tier will be called Learning Partner Specialized. The Specialized level will require learning partners to meet the needs of one ore more of the three architectures.

Andres Simtes, global director of the worldwide learning partner channel at Cisco, said the changes are a continuation of Cisco’s ongoing evolution towards specialization with its training partners.

“We’re making sure they have the right capabilities and are maximizing the value of what they’re providing to our partners and our customers,” Simtes said.

All of the company’s learning partners have been informed of the changes, and can start submitting their applications for specialized status beginning this week. By the end of 2011, learning partners will have to have met the new requirements for specialized or will default to associate status. Learning partners can, however, be bumped up to specialized at any time after meeting the new requirements.