The VAR Guy

September 13, 2007

4 Min Read
Cisco Launches Software Partner Network; Takes Aim At Microsoft

Cisco is launching an Industry Solutions Partner Network (ISPN), but don’t believe everything you read about the social network. For the next few weeks, many editors will likely compare ISPN to rival online systems that allow VARs to work with VARs. In reality, ISPN has a far more strategic mission. Hint: It involves Microsoft.

Ultimately, ISPN will promote Cisco’s growing list of software partners, and seeks to connect those companies with VARs. If ISPN delivers the goods, it could allow Cisco to maintain its lead over Microsoft in the unified communications market.

Cisco CEO John Chambers asserts that Cisco has a three-year lead over Microsoft in the unified communications market. But that lead could shrink if Cisco doesn’t actively develop and promote software alliances. Sure, Cisco is working with Microsoft on several fronts, including integrating Microsoft CRM and Outlook with Cisco Unified Communications. But Cisco executives conceded competition with Microsoft will be unavoidable in certain customer engagements.

That’s where the Industry Solutions Partner Network enters the picture. “What we’re essentially doing is launching an ISV [independent software vendor] partner program to make sure unified communications applications are at the top of the value chain,” said Cisco’s Surinder Brar, worldwide channel strategy and programs.

Translation: Cisco has lined up about 30 software companies to promote their unified applications on ISPN. Solutions providers can log into the network, have virtual conversations with the ISVs, and potentially build solutions involving multiple applications.

That’s smart. The VAR Guy has harassed Cisco for nearly a year, calling for the company to work far more closely with software providers in the unified communications space. When you compete with Microsoft, you have to have application providers in you corner. ISPN should help that effort.

Confusion Then Clarity

Still, not everyone understands ISPN’s mission. A Cisco briefing about ISPN, delivered in Dublin, Ireland on September 12, didn’t start out so well. Some editors at the Cisco event — including The VAR Guy — initially thought the Industry Solutions Partner Network was yet another social network that allows VARs to speak with VARs about customer opportunities — something similar to Avnet’s OneTech Connect, Ingram Micro’s VentureTech and other partner networks.

The confusion started when Keith Goodwin, Cisco Systems’ worldwide channel chief, said the company will help partners collaborate with one another across geographies, solutions, technologies, offer types and lifecycle services. The challenge, Goodwin conceded, is making sure partners are willing to give up account control since some VARs will need to be subcontractors in certain situations. “It’s an inhibitor to collaboration today,” conceded Goodwin.

With Goodwin’s comments in mind, it was only natural to assume that ISPN would be a VAR-to-VAR partner network. But when Goodwin and others were describing the strategy, they actually meant VAR-to-software provider partnerships.

Long Term Direction

Initially, the ISPN network does not support VAR-to-VAR communications. Nor does it support presence — the ability for VARs to recognize whether peer VARs are online in the system at any particular time.

Forgive The VAR Guy for speaking his mind, but he has a lot of experience with social networks. He’s launched several social networks that are now thriving communities. For a social network to really take off, you need the members to participate in its growth and evolution. And members need to know who is online at specific moments, so that they can connect with key sources in real-time.

Over the long haul, VARs in the Cisco network need the ability to speak with one another through blogs, wikis, video posts, etc., The VAR Guy believes. The last thing partners need is yet another platform for vendors to post pure marketing videos and white papers.

Promising Start

Still, it’s important to note that the Industry Solutions Partner Network is a 1.0 release. And it targets Cisco’s number one need in the market: Building strong relationships with software companies, and connecting those software providers with VARs.

Future enhancements to the network will likely support VAR-to-VAR communications, Cisco executives said. And to Cisco’s credit, vendors can launch booths on the site for free over the next 12 months. Cisco has not determined whether it will charge vendors for their online booths over the long haul.

So, the bottom line: The Industry Solutions Partner Network looks really slick. Thirty ISVs already have booths on the network. But let’s hope this isn’t purely a vendor marketing or virtual trade show platform. VARs do have the ability to set up their own “Partner Spaces” on the network. But next up, they need to be able to quickly connect with peer VARs.

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