COVID world provides “permission” for technology change, Cisco execs say

Chuck Robbins, CEO of Cisco, presenting at Cisco Live 2020

“There’s nowhere I’d rather be than not here right now,” said Chuck Robbins, CEO of Cisco, kicking off last week’s Cisco Live event, reimagined as a virtual event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and then rescheduled due to the protests in the U.S. in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd.

While Robbins’ comment was meant as a counter to the expected “There’s no place I’d rather be right now than here with you” line that CEOs almost invariably pull out to open their company’s big in-person events, the line especially resonates with what many are feeling in a time of unprecedented challenges, turmoil, and chaos.

But if there’s good news to come out of the severe impact of the pandemic, it’s that there’s an opportunity — and even “permission” for IT departments and channel professionals to re-create technology systems with an eye to the future, Robbins told customers and partners in his keynote address. In his presentation, he lamented “the architectural debt” in terms of technology innovation that exists in some companies.

But, he said, the need to swiftly re-imagine IT in the face of a suddenly remote-work world, means IT professionals worldwide to build for the future.

“If you’re not in the epicentre of the crisis right now, you’ve got an opportunity, and you’ve got permission,” Robbins said.

That permission includes focusing on security for remote-working staff and the data with which they deal, reimagining applications to better support remote workers, rolling out new tools to help remote workers collaborate and work, and redesigning the network underneath it all that makes it all happen.

“I think we have the opportunity to make the world better in this post-pandemic world,” Robbins told attendees. That opportunity is captured by Cisco’s new purpose statement, announced by Robbins at Cisco Live, of “powering an inclusive future for all.

So what do these changes, and this opportunity mean to the company’s channel partners?

In a post-Cisco Live presentation to channel press, Oliver Tuszik, senior vice president of Cisco’s Global Partner Organization, stressed that the company doesn’t know what the future will hold, “but our partner strategy is not changing.”

Oliver Tuszik, senior vice president of Cisco’s Global Partner Organization

Tuszik repeated what many channel professionals recognize — his partners reported a mad dash of activity in March and April, then a lull which he described as a “reflect and reimagine” phase. That echos the opportunity that Robbins outlines. The message from Cisco is that now is the time to plan for the future. Whatever that may look like.

The channel in a unique place to “help [businesses] prepare for the new normal,” Tuszik said, noting that while partners are not yet seeing business rebound, the “first countries are beginning to see the light that a rebound is coming.”

Among the key short-term priorities for Tuszik is converting as many of the free trials of Webex and other services out there in use today into paying customers, making sure they’re getting the most out of their new tools, and upselling. He described this effort as “a global sprint” for the company and its partners.

“We want to make the discussion not about whether or not they’ll renew, but how much more they’re going to buy,” Tuszik said.

For those who aren’t sprinting right now, Tuszik emphasized the opportunity for partners to use any downtime they may have to “invest in your people.” All of the company’s training is available free, and the company’s Black Belt Training program is “growing like hell,” Tuszik reported, at a growth rate of more than 200 percent. Such investments in the past are paying off today for partners, he noted.

“Partners that invested early are seeing the benefits right now. Partners who thought they had more time are seeing more impact on their business,” he said.

Tuszik also touched on the decision to move its annual Partner Summit in November to a virtual format, just as it did with Cisco Live this month. While he said the plan is to move Partner Summit back to an in-person event in 2021, he promised a “true” Partner Summit experience this year.

“You’ll see a lot of big announcements. And you’ll see different, new formats for more engagement,” Tuszik pledged. “Even if we’re not able to spend the evening together in the bar.”

Robert Dutt

Robert Dutt is the founder and head blogger at ChannelBuzz.ca. He has been covering the Canadian solution provider channel community for a variety of publications and Web sites since 1997. 

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