Disrupt or die. Cisco's vision for the Internet of Everything: Part 2

Sean McGrath attends the Cisco Partner Summit 2015 in Montreal and asks whether or not the networking giant can complete its most ambitious transformation to date

Software? Cisco?

This brings us nicely onto the next big message at Cisco Partner Summit. Cisco is no longer a hardware company, it is a software company too. Of course, we’ve heard that somewhere before. The software and services tune is one that Cisco has been playing over and over for the last decade; after all, it does have a lot of software, and yet partners and journalists still refer to it as ‘the networking giant’.

In an effort to change this, the networking giant – damn it, wait, the… Everything giant (?) has launched a brand new partner programme. The aptly named Cisco Software Partner Programme, due to go live at the start of 2016, features three key ‘roles’ – the Software Lifecycle Advisor, Software Consultant and Software Integrator.

Speaking at the event, Steve Benvenuto, senior director of business development at Cisco, said that the programme would educate and enable partners to make better use of the considerable software portfolio on offer. It is hoped that the byproduct of the programme will be a subconscious shift amongst partners, where Cisco becomes a software company once and for all.  

Too much hype?

It’s an interesting strategy, to lead with such an ideologically driven message.

John Chambers and the rest of the executive group are, not for the first time, approaching partners with a strong message – disrupt or die. It’s an interesting strategy, to lead with such an ideologically driven message. After all, the Internet of Everything doesn’t exist yet; at least not to the extent that it can be called the Internet of Everything. Sure, there are siloes of ‘things’ within specific verticals; the trailblazers are proving that a machine-to-machine connected world with autonomy at its heart is undoubtedly the way to go.

But, for the time being at least, it remains a version of tomorrow that does not yet exist and is being fuelled by the relentless hype (much of it coming from Cisco). There are no frameworks in place and Cisco is by no means the only tech giant trying to make a powerplay on tomorrow’s interconnected planet.  

So is it wise to assume that partners, who flew half way around the world, are ready to receive an abstract vision of the future; to be told ‘reinvent your company or die’?

UK channel boss Richard Roberts told MicroScope that it is vital that partners begin to plan for this future.

“Although the Internet of Everything as a business outcome maybe some way off for many customers, the need for the network and the infrastructure to be capable of supporting that decision when it’s made has never been more urgent,” Roberts said. “It really is relevant for partners today.”

The channel chief doesn’t foresee this being a problem for UK partners.

“We have probably one of the most diverse channels and one of the most mature channels as well. They are used to being disrupted; either by the economy or by market transitions that are happening at pace. The partners are very robust,” Roberts said, but admitted that this was no run-of-the-mill transition.

“The pace of change has quickened massively. Partners are now looking at roles that they never considered before; roles that the customers are asking of them. Getting involved in software wasn’t on anyone’s agenda three or four years ago and now for many of our partners, it is mandatory.”

So if Cisco insists on endlessly beating the IoE drum, with battle cries based on tomorrow’s world – surely there are some pragmatic steps that partners can take today? You bet there are…

Towards the end of last year, the firm launched a series of ‘specialisations’ (certifications without a certificate) intended to help partners capitalise on the untapped market.

“Our IT partners do not necessarily understand all of the operation technology (OT) so we provide them with specialisations,” explained Andreas Dohmen in a roundtable at the Partner Summit. “That means enablement training and workshops to understand the manufacturing plant.”

“On the other hand there are good operation technology companies that are great at manufacturing but do not understand all of IT.”

The specialisations are currently: connected safety and security; manufacturing; and industry expert, with two more promised this summer. These are exactly the kind of pragmatic programmes that partners will be looking for in order to start thinking about where they slot into this vision of tomorrow.

Betting the farm

So where does all this leave us? Cisco is betting the house, the farm and its future on the Internet of Everything and it’s asking its partners to do the same. Market watchers, analysts and the IT community at large are all confident that this is the way the digital ecosystem is headed, so it seems like a safe bet.

The key differentiator between Cisco and its competitors lays in the term ‘Everything’. Cisco has recognised that the Internet of Things requires much more than things. Connected sensors and applications require a network, more bandwidth, more intelligence on the edge of the network, new security paradigms and more orchestration. Cisco is in a prime position to deliver on these considerations.

Of course, the road to the promise land is fraught with danger. Cisco is facing very real fiscal challenges in the here and now as it undergoes this transformation.

It will be a bumpy ride and going all in at this early stage is certainly a bold move. Only time will tell if it’s the right one; but if I were a gambling man, I wouldn’t bet against them.

Return to part 1

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