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December 19, 2023
As Rodney Clark’s first day atop Cisco’s channel approaches, partners have thoughts on what he should do and concerns about what he might do.
Cisco's Rodney Clark
“There’s a lifespan of most of these people doing the role,” observed Simmons, who is group vice president for strategic alliances at global managed services giant Logicalis. “It wasn’t surprising that he wanted to move on.”
The announcement last month that Tuszik’s replacement beginning in January would be former Microsoft channel chief (and more recently Johnson Controls chief commercial officer) Rodney Clark, however, caught Simmons off guard.
“There were lots of rumors and we had money on who it would be,” he recalls. “Rodney was not one of the names that was mentioned.”
If Clark was an unexpected choice, however, he was far from an unwelcome one at Logicalis.
“We actually know Rodney quite well,” Simmons said. “He was instrumental [at Microsoft] in getting us aligned as a global partner.”
Plus, Clark’s background at Microsoft could prove helpful at Cisco as it transitions into the age of cloud computing and managed services, Simmons added.
“Him coming in kind of shows the direction that you can imagine Cisco wanting to push more to, which is more software driven, annuity driven, life-cycle driven,” he said.
Other Cisco partners, however, greeted word of Tuszik’s replacement with less enthusiasm. Clark, they recalled painfully, was running Microsoft’s partner program during the disruptive switch to the “New Commerce Experience” (NCE), a revamped set of rules, incentives and pricing structures for Microsoft cloud solutions that required months of time-consuming, sometimes awkward, conversations with customers.
“That program was a disaster,” says Ed Correia, CEO of Sagacent Technologies, an MSP in Santa Clara, California, “and past historical occurrences are the best indication of future occurrences.”
How Correia, Simmons, and other Cisco partners regard Clark’s hiring a year from now is likely to hinge on which legacy of his time at Microsoft ends up defining his leadership. Will his early actions in his new job leave Cisco partners feeling more in sync with the company or less?
One thing most Cisco partners agree on is that Clark has big shoes to fill.
Logicalis' Richard Simmons
“We’ve had a very good relationship with Oliver for many, many years,” Simmons said.
But Logicalis has also worked well with Clark before, and unlike some, typically smaller, Microsoft partners, Simmons likes working with Microsoft too.
“We’ve found that the experience, I have to be honest, is a pretty positive one,” he said.
He’s not the only one either.
“I’ve heard some people gripe that Microsoft is hard to work with, but honestly, I think they’ve captured as much market share in cloud applications [as they have] due to their relatively straightforward buying programs,” says Doug Westervelt, CEO of Portland Internetworks, an IT service provider headquartered in Portland, Oregon.
Michael Goldstein, meanwhile, thinks Clark deserves a pass for being on point during the move to NCE, given that plans for that transition were drawn up before he took over as channel leader.
“It was under his tenure, but before his time,” says Goldstein, who is president and CEO of LAN Infotech, a solution provider and MSP in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Clark, moreover, did a pretty good job of dealing with complaints and criticism during the NCE rollout, he added.
“I had a bunch of interactions with him and definitely felt like he understood where we were all coming from,” Goldstein said.
Like many other Cisco partners, Goldstein hopes Clark’s understanding of MSPs rubs off on Cisco. The company only began embracing managed services in earnest some two years ago, and while it now has 18 managed offers in areas like cloud networking, SD-WAN and firewalls, plus a range of MSP-specific enablement resources, many partners would like to see it move faster.
“There’s a lot of work they’re doing, but it’s taking them, I think, some time to kind of build that through,” Simmons said, adding that for all the headway it’s made toward prioritizing subscription revenue and long-term relationships, Cisco continues to favor one-time, product-heavy transactions.
“We have some challenges with some of the programs and some of the way we get incentivized and their salespeople get incentivized,” Simmons said.
Microsoft, he notes, is entirely different.
“It’s less about, 'have you won a new logo?'” Simmons observes, and more about what you’ve done with it. “What’s the next thing you’re selling? What’s the next consumption that’s coming? Are you driving more users?”
Under Clark’s influence, Simmons predicts, Cisco will similarly emphasize adoption, retention and renewal.
“I would imagine that over the next few years you’re going to see more and more movement toward that kind of reward and focus within the partner community,” Simmons told Channel Futures.
Westervelt hopes he’s right.
“For years, I have been remarking to any Cisco exec that’ll listen that they [should] learn from how Microsoft sells SaaS through partners,” he says. “Maybe Rodney’s hire will scratch that itch.”
In addition to its sales programs, Simmons would like to see Cisco update its tools for MSPs too.
“Cisco has systems that have been there for 20 years that are designed for a resale business,” he noted, pointing to Cisco Commerce Workspace (CCW) in particular.
“It’s taking a long time to work with Cisco to get to the point that we can easily tag a deal in CCW to say it’s a managed service.”
The same goes for services-friendly financing, Simmons added.
“There aren’t really many options at the moment − or simple options − for us,” he says.
Goldstein, for his part, would like to see Clark make MSP resources easier to understand.
“Hopefully he can make that messaging a little simpler to manage service providers on how to utilize the Cisco benefits, how to utilize the team,” he says.
All that’s a lot to accomplish, but Simmons has his fingers crossed that Clark finds a way to combine the things he appreciates about Microsoft with everything he likes about Cisco.
“My hope is it will get the best of both,” he said of the channel culture Clark ultimately builds. “That could be very, very good.”
Rich Freeman is one of the tech industry’s most experienced, respected authorities on the SMB channel.
He is both founding editor and former executive editor of The ChannelPro Network, where he covered every company, product announcement, partner program, market shift and revenue opportunity worth knowing about and interviewed every CEO, channel chief and thought leader who matters.
He is also founder of Channelholic, a weekly insider’s compilation of the most overlooked stories, most important announcements, most innovative products, most interesting vendors, and most significant trends in the worlds of managed services, cloud computing, cybersecurity, and tech M&A.
In addition, he is chief content officer for Channel Mastered, the channel chief’s go-to source for strategic MSP market research and analysis, consulting, custom content, and channel program optimization.
Rich has been writing about the SMB channel since 2007. He has spoken and moderated sessions at live and virtual industry events for Acronis, Auvik, Axcient, ChannelPro, IoT World, IT Glue, and SkyKick, among others, and has written for CIO, Computerworld, InfoWorld, Network World, and Redmond Channel Partner magazines. An experienced webinar host and editorial planner of in-person and online events, Rich has co-hosted hundreds of episodes for the ChannelPro Weekly and ChannelPro 5 Minute Roundup podcasts.
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