Just how big is Cisco’s multi-partner ecosystem?

Cisco channel chief Wendy Bahr at Partner Summit 2016 in San Diego

Cisco channel chief Wendy Bahr

Last week at the networking giant’s Partner Summit in San Francisco, global channel chief Wendy Bahr called the company’s multi-partner ecosystem play one of the best programs and efforts its made on the channel front in a long time.

The program was introduced at Partner Summit two and a half years ago by then-channel chief Bruce Klein as a way to both cozy up with independent software vendors, and connect those ISVs with “traditional” Cisco channel partners, a move Klein said was necessary in the face of the move towards solutions taking advantage of the then-new Internet of things movement.

Two years out, Bahr is calling it a tremendous success story. But just how successful.

“It’s about $3 billion for us. And we’re probably under-representing it,” Bahr told ChannelBuzz.ca last week.

That under-representation is because while the vendor’s CRM implementation does a good job of capturing opportunities brought in by “traditional” partners, it doesn’t currently do a good job of representing opportunities brought to the company and its partners by those ISV partners. That’s something the company will look to fix in the near future, Bahr said.

She held out a number of big data and analytics vendors or offerings — CloudEra, Splunk, and Hadoop, in particular — as providing “tremendous traction” for Cisco partners.

That $3 billion is likely to grow. Not just from better representing what’s already going on, but because as more deals are driven by IoT types of opportunities, applications — both in general, and particularly vertically-targeted — become even more key. And when you’re talking, as Cisco so frequently is, about digital business transformation, solutions are best pitched by a three-headed hydra representing infrastructure and platform (Cisco), vertical-specific applications (ISVs), and integration, deployment and operation services (partners.)

Cisco Canada president Bernadette Wightman

Cisco Canada president Bernadette Wightman

On the home front, Cisco Canada president Bernadette Wightman said the Canadian subsidiary is “in many ways, creating these ecosystems quicker than some places in the world.” Much of the credit for that goes to Rick Huijbregts, who led the Canadian smart connected real estate business that was the precursor to its IoT and business transformation concepts over the last decade. Huijbregts — who recently returned to a Canada-specific role after taking an Americas-level role a year ago — was instrumental in defining the first generation of those partners, bringing a variety of new types of partners, including building contractors and building controls manufacturers, into the Cisco partner tent.

“I was very fortunate to inherit that,” Wightman said. “Having him and his team means we were ahead of the game, and we’ve really capitalized on that.”

Cisco Canada also has a unique advantage in terms of its own showcase of such IoT and smart connected real estate. Its own Toronto headquarters, formally opened earlier this year, is touted as one of the “smartest buildings in Canada.”

So Canada has a unique advantage in regards to this multi-partner methodology that Cisco sees growing in importance. But there’s still work to do. Cisco Canada channel chief Mark Collins said there’s a “small number of partners that got really comfortable with this very early in the game, two or three years ago now, and made it part of their new normal.”

He likens it to any “crossing the chasm” type effort — the early adopters are there, and the multi-partner engagement and selling model is rapidly becoming mainstream.

Cisco Canada channel chief Mark Collins

Cisco Canada channel chief Mark Collins

“We’re seeing signs that the customers are expecting it to be the case, because it’s what they need,” Collins said.

That requirement from customers will become more pressing, and will create even more urgency around the simultaneous (and inextricably linked) transformation of selling more on business outcomes as “all companies become technology companies,” as Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins put it. The change has been profound even at Cisco, where Collins said the company has moved from training account managers by technology expertise to valuing an ability to suss out the business problems customers need to solve to improve their own businesses.

“[Customers] don’t just need technology to connect, they need it to compete,” as Collins put it.

That means tremendous stickiness and big opportunities for those who make the shift. But it also means major challenges for partners that either can’t make the transition, or falls behind customer expectations.

“Customers see us and see our partners as partners in their strategy,” Collins said. “They need that. And if they can’t get that with us, they’ll have to go somewhere else to get it.”