Stepan Popov -

Cisco channel prospects looking solid going into 2021

Cisco is closing out the year with programme enhancements, an increasing focus on collaboration and strong evidence that its partner base has innovated through the pandemic

It has been a busy fourth quarter so far for Cisco, with the vendor announcing a significant partner programme revamp and the firm gearing up for 2021.

The channel is at the heart of the vendor’s plans, and Angela Whitty, UK and Ireland managing director of partner organisation at Cisco, said the firm has a solid set of people selling the brand in the market after the performance of partners during the pandemic.

“We’ve seen huge innovation and creativity in the channel. We started to see that more and more, even through this period of lockdown,” she said.

No one quite knows what will happen after the vaccine rolls out and life gets back to some sort of normality, but the expectations are that things will not get back to exactly the way they were before and technology will have a role to play.

“I think we will end up with this hybrid model of a much more flexible working space,” said Whitty. “There will be fewer fixed desks, more collaborative collaboration space, meeting rooms and meeting spaces.

“I don’t think any business will go back to operating in exactly the same way,” she said, adding that online schooling and healthcare are examples where there had been rapid adoption of collaboration tools.

Even the normal activities between Cisco and its partners changed. The partner event that would have happened in Las Vegas instead went virtual and the feedback was positive, which raises some questions about running conferences when it is possible to have them online and reduce the environmental costs and the time demands on partners.

Cisco is hosting a Webex event next week, which should indicate how the vendor is looking to enhance the online collaboration experience further into 2021.

“There’s lots of anticipation around the organisation and around the channel in general about what’s going to come out [of that event],” said Whitty. “It can’t be around making what you have 10 times better or making what you have 10 times better than your competition, it has to be about making collaboration 10 times better than an in-person experience.”

Besides not slowing down the vendor’s commitment to product innovation, the pandemic has seen Cisco improve its channel programme. At the partner event in October, the firm revealed the most significant changes it had made for a decade.

“The new programme will allow our partners to bring together all of the disparate programmes and will allow partners to play in their areas of expertise, so they’ll be a gold standard integrator, managed service provider, developer and adviser. So you still have that high standard, but it just allows people to be more specific in the areas that are important now,” said Whitty.

Business conditions have been affected by restrictions and lockdowns, but the channel seems to have got through them in a position to focus on making gains before the year ends.

“In the second period of lockdown, we’ve seen the numbers hold. We’ve seen lots of creativity out of our channel, so with news of a vaccination, hopefully we will see that continue through the rest of this year and into next,” said Whitty.

“When you talk about aspirations for 2021, that’s what we’re all holding on to – that we get back to some semblance of normality, and we’re able to rebuild in a world we can help to rebuild. Parts of the economy that have been affected heavily through 2020 will be glad to see the back of this year,” she added.

Aside from the roll-out of the vaccine and a hopeful end to Covid-19, there are technology areas that should drive optimism in the channel around the prospects for 2021.

Some of these play right into the hands of the Cisco channel, with 5G, continued remote working and increased cloud consumption, all having an impact on the infrastructure.

Whitty said that just in terms of the attitude and adoption across the channel of collaboration tools, it boded well for the year ahead. “The creativity that I’ve seen from our channel partners has just been fantastic and that makes me feel really positive for the future,” she said.

“With changing our programmes, developing this new platform to make the ability for partners to work with Cisco simpler, and the customer [feedback], it all makes me really positive about next year,” she added.

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