New Cisco specializations go cross-architecture

Marc Surplus, vice president of strategy, planning and programs for Cisco’s Global Partner Organization

Cisco has long offered partner specializations based on the architectures on which it has historically built its business. And recently, it has added specializations that extend beyond or around those architectures in the form of specialization around its services, sustainability, and specific technology combinations like Full Stack Observability and SASE. But with a trio of new specializations, it’s going across multiple architectures with a focus on solutions.

At Partner Summit in Las Vegas this week, the networking giant introduced partner specializations around Hybrid Cloud Networking, Hybrid Cloud Computing, and Hybrid Cloud Software. These elements combine various pieces from its technology architectures around some of the leading customer priorities today.

The shift to these new specializations is part of an overall move from programs and specializations that start from Cisco and go out to programs that start at customer priorities and look inwards, said Marc Surplus, vice president of partner strategy and programs at Cisco.

“These new specializations are tied to Cisco’s most recent innovation and the solutions our partners are bringing to customers,” Surplus said.

Surplus said the company designed the new specializations to be “lighter-weight” than traditional Cisco specializations, leaning on the education and verification that Cisco already does with partners around the architectures as a starting point. Rather than measuring a partner’s knowledge around a given Cisco architecture, Surplus said the new specializations focus more specifically on what a partner brings to customers.

“They don’t need to know you passed a test. They need to know you can deliver a solution,” Surplus said.

He said that the new specializations would require less training and testing, and most of what partners need from an architectural background would be free. And because they cut across the various silos of technology that Cisco brings to market, Surplus said the company is removing restrictions on role-sharing by employees at solution providers.

“Our partners don’t need us telling them how to manage their resources,” Surplus said.

Training for the new specializations will primarily be through the company’s Black Belt education packages. The new specializations will be represented in the next iteration of the company’s all-encompassing VIP rebates and incentives structure when it launches in January.

Because the number and nature of a partner’s specializations are differentiators in advancing through the tiers of the partner program, the new specializations could provide an easier path for partners to rise through the ranks of the Cisco partner community.

And at the same time, Cisco’s taking steps to offer more to smaller partners, particularly those new to Cisco. The company has provided a Perform Plus incentive program for smaller partners growing rapidly with the company. It has now added an incentive category below that, called Perform Plus Activate, that rewards new partners for consistent bookings, building the foundation with the company that partners can use to switch into the rapid growth mode captured under the core Perform Plus program.

“It’s about supporting the momentum early in their journey before they kick into growth and Perform Plus,” Surplus said.

Robert Dutt

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