The specializations recognize partners' cross-architectural skillsets.

James Anderson, Senior News Editor

November 1, 2022

4 Min Read
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CISCO PARTNER SUMMIT — Cisco is giving its most loyal partners a competitive advantage with a new line of specializations.

The IT giant just rolled out solution specializations, which the company designed to recognize partners’ cross-architectural skillsets. The solution specializations complement Cisco’s existing certifications: architecture specializations, Cisco Powered Service specializations and business specializations.

The solution specializations address full-stack observability (FSO), hybrid work from office, secure access service edge (SASE), hybrid cloud computing, hybrid cloud software and hybrid cloud networking. Partners will earn the certifications through module-based training based on Cisco’s on-demand, modular Black Belt learning maps.

Cisco is hosting its partners at its annual summit in Las Vegas this week.

Marc Surplus is vice president of partner strategy and programs in Cisco’s global partner and routes-to-market sales organization. He said these new specializations allow partners to build upon their existing investments to demonstrate their expertise to customers.

Here’s our most recent list of important channel-program changes you should know.


Cisco’s Marc Surplus

“What they want is explicit recognition in the market that they can deliver those solutions to their customers,” Surplus told Channel Futures.

Techaisle chief global analyst Anurag Agrawal said 74% of customers list specialization as their initial criterion for selecting a partner.


Techaisle’s Anurag Agrawal

“By tying solution specializations to customer buying criteria, Cisco makes it easier for customers to identify which partners to work with,” Agrawal said.

Ease of Business

Cisco channel executives describe the new certs as a “lightweight” path for partners that won’t require them to hire or do extensive training. But now Cisco is adding an opportunity for “greater differentiation at a lower cost,” Surplus told Channel Futures.

“In the past, our specializations have been heavily reliant on training and testing, which would take billable hours from sales and technical resources at our partners out of the mix on a day-to-day basis,” he said.

These solution specializations, like Cisco’s already established architectural specializations, help partners earn gold, premier and select status with Cisco. Partners historically have needed to earn a customer experience specialization in addition to three other specializations. Adding the lighter weight solutions specializations helps partners arrive at gold in a more cost-effective and flexible fashion.

“In the past some partners, in order to be gold, may have had to invest in a data center or collaboration practice, even if it really wasn’t a big part of their business,” Surprlus said. “But now they no longer have to make that investment to maintain that practice. They can move to a solution specialization and meet the requirements to maintain their certification level.”

Competitive Advantage

These specializations recognize the most loyal partners in the Cisco partner ecosystem. They also better position those partners in front of customers, according to Surplus.

“Many of our partners show up to customers’ RFPs that you can’t get into if you’re not a certified Cisco partner,” he said. “We’re protecting those investments that the partners have made, and we’re giving them more ways to get there.”

He said the new Cisco partner specializations help loyal partners with a specific problem. That’s the imposition of “certified” Cisco partners that aren’t truly selling Cisco.

“They take the test, go through all the steps and get invited to the RFP, but then they’re not leading with Cisco. They’re trying to understand what Cisco is doing so they can lead with a competitor. And if you’re a deeply invested, loyal Cisco Partner, that can be frustrating,” Surplus said.

Surplus said Tuesday’s announcement in part reflects Cisco’s response to partner feedback. The vendor is taking those concerns “to heart” with the solutions specializations.

“It removes the faux competitors. And for customers, it also allows them to know very clearly that these partners are proven,” he said.

Surplus said the Cisco program remains open to all registered partners.

“But we wanted to do as much as we could to really protect the investments of the partners that are driving the solutions, delivering the solutions and staying at their top of the game on the expertise associated with our innovation and technology,” he said.

Partner Program

Cisco defines its partners in four categories. Its integrator partners, often considered Cisco’s legacy partners, build and deploy solutions. Its provider partners, also known as MSPs, deliver managed services based on Cisco offerings. Developer partners build applications based on a Cisco framework. Lastly – and most recently – its advisor partners, more colloquially known as agents, guide customers through the Cisco portfolio to identify the best-fitting solution.

Cisco is hosting its partners at its annual summit in Las Vegas this week.

Want to contact the author directly about this story? Have ideas for a follow-up article? Email James Anderson or connect with him on LinkedIn.


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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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