The need to be certified across all of Cisco's core technology pillars has raised the bar for gold partners, according to the networking vendor's local managing director, Ross Fowler. But rather than pushing them away, he insisted the changes were largely driven by discussions with dealer and end-user communities.
"I can't see any of our gold partners backing off from the significant investments they have already made in Cisco," he said. "A lot of the money in the market is going to be made from combining these [advanced] technologies and delivering them with services. This will be key to improving partner profitability."
A/NZ channel manager, Suzanne Hansen, said the newly announced unified communications express certification would make silver status a more attractive proposition for dealers. But she predicted more premier partners would bypass silver and go straight to broad-based gold certification or master specialisations in unified communications or security.
Cisco currently has 14 gold partners in the Australian market but only two silvers - C4 Systems and Integ.
The master certification will make a larger number of Cisco's broad premier dealer base more competitive against established gold partners in the areas of unified communications and security. Fowler admitted this had caused some concern at the top of its local reseller tree.
"Gold partners are nervous about this change but if they focus on lifecycle services, particularly on a national basis, they will still have an edge over the other guys," he said.
The growing presence of major telcos in the traditional IT networking market has also been a major channel concern during the past couple of years as communications continue to converge. But Fowler was eager to downplay it.
"We cannot and would not want to do anything about competition in the market but we can ensure there is a level playing field," he said. "If a telco wants to resell Cisco equipment, it will but under the same discount and certification terms as resellers.
"Telcos want special treatment but our gold partners have invested significantly. As a generalisation, the capabilities of our traditional partners are superior. They are dynamic organisations that can compete in their own right."
Citing Telstra's purchase of Kaz and Optus snapping up Alphawest, Fowler said partnerships between the IT channel and telcos could become a trend. This would only happen, however, if it was driven by the carriers.
"The IT industry works as an ecosystem where no single party dominates," he said. "Telcos are bad partnering organisations but it's a matter of trying to switch on the light."
Cisco will concentrate on growing its Australian business in five key verticals this year, according to Fowler. He identified healthcare, defence, retail, education and financial services as its top priorities.
See the March 29 issue of ARN for in-depth channel reaction to the Cisco program changes.