Cisco Partners Look to Monetize AI, Security Opportunities

The technology landscape looks very fragmented for some channel partners, but others say it's coming together.

James Anderson, Senior News Editor

June 20, 2024

4 Min Read
Cisco partners on journey monetizing AI, security
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Cisco channel partners are weighing the downstream implications of the company's mega-merger with Splunk, its expanding cybersecurity portfolio and its accelerating AI investments.

The IT giant has its hands in multiple technologies and is making integrations among those categories to build a reputation as a platform company. The company at its annual Cisco Live gathering earlier this month unveiled enhancements to its portfolio. Many channel partners – including resellers, managed service providers, integrators and everything in between – witnessed the updates. They say they're working to understand how they will fit into Cisco's various tech initiatives.

The Tech Stack and AI Trickle-Down

The initiative that dominated headlines was – unsurprisingly – artificial intelligence. Cisco shared that it's working to move faster on M&A, partnerships investments and incubation related AI.

But other tech got its day in the sun at Cisco Live, including categories like Cisco's Webex collaboration platform that got an AI infusion. And underlying the excitement around AI is the ambition Cisco and other networking providers have about helping power new applications and large language models.

Moreover, Cisco partners who provide networking and security products and services believe they're partaking in a rising tide of customer demand.

Related:'Never Disconnected:' Cisco, Partners Seek to Deepen Network Resilience

ScanSource's Kristin Hill

"That's going to drive such a high consumption of networking products and connectivity consumption," said Kristin Hill, Cisco practice leader for the distributor ScanSource. " ... Those are all great revenue opportunities for the channel. Can we create the services and value-added offerings that drive outcomes at the pace that the market is going to consume these technologies? It's a great challenge for us to have right now."

New Service Metrics

Cisco, in its announcement of a $1 billion AI investment fund on June 4, stated that the company planned to move "bigger and faster" in developing its AI portfolio, as customer deployments around generative AI pick up globally.

As the tech landscape develops, Hill said ScanSource sees more vertically specialized demands coming from end customers.

"Whereas your secret sauce of networking was very relevant across six verticals all at once, maybe now it's three verticals," Hill told Channel Futures. "It's becoming more specialized because the outcomes that these verticals are looking for are more similar to each other, versus being broad."

But that represents strong opportunity for channel partners to function as trusted advisors for their customers, Hill said.

Related:First Cisco-Splunk Observability Platform Integrations Go Live

However, Hill noted that AI's ability to create "instant results" at the business level has changed the expectation for how businesses that are buying and using tech. Technology consumption, she said, is occurring on a "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately" basis. This is making services more important than ever for partners to add, she said. While that's an opportunity for partners, it's also a resource-intensive challenge.

"Service offerings are expensive. Those require human capital on the engineering side, let alone logistics, program management and all the normal things that you would put into value-added offerings," she said.

Moreover, VARs will need to think deeper about what "services" means, she said. In addition to product implementation, maintenance, break-fix and even "managed services," Hill pointed to services around customer success, usage and adoption.

"Our partners have to change the way they're delivering services to do those things, because now you're managing to a customer KPI and not an SOW," she said.

Cisco Partners Eye Security

A recent article by Channel Futures highlighted the movement many SD-WAN service providers have made to offering secure access service edge (SASE).

Core to that movement are service providers viewing cybersecurity as a central part of their business.

Netherlands-based managed network services provider Expereo leverages Cisco routers and switches, Viptela and Meraki SD-WAN, and uses Cisco Smartnet technical support service in its networking business. Expereo chief product officer Sander Barens told Channel Futures the company is leaning into the increasing overlap between network and security.

"As technologies converge – with access, security and cloud coming together – one opportunity is in productizing Cisco Umbrella to enhance our customer’s security experience across our platform, Barens told Channel Futures.

expereo_sander_barens.PNG

Spectrotel CEO Ross Artale pointed to extended detection and response (XDR) as an area where Cisco's new investments could pay off for the managed network services provider. Cisco unveiled an XDR solution in 2023 and recently made its AI Assistant for Security available within the product.

Moreover, Cisco XDR is integrating into Splunk's security information and events management (SIEM) platform. That reflects the efforts of Cisco to meld observability and cybersecurity.

At the same time, convergence isn't the name of the game for everything. Expereo, which serves multinational customers, is dealing with fragmentation and product sprawl, Barens said.

"An ongoing challenge we are seeing across the industry is fragmentation from a technology and connectivity perspective," he told Channel Futures. "The world is more fragmented than ever before, and with technology innovating at a rapid pace, making the right technology choices can be challenging."

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About the Author(s)

James Anderson

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

James Anderson is a news editor for Channel Futures. He interned with Informa while working toward his degree in journalism from Arizona State University, then joined the company after graduating. He writes about SD-WAN, telecom and cablecos, technology services distributors and carriers. He has served as a moderator for multiple panels at Channel Partners events.

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