Telepresence and interoperable communication systems are just some of the cutting edge applications cooking in Cisco's technology pot. Director of worldwide channels, Steve Benvenuto, is in charge of developing go-to market strategies for the networking giant's emerging technologies. He spoke at the recent partner summit about how it plans to work with channel to bring those to fruition.
Can you give us a brief overview of the emerging technologies department?
My responsibility is channels for emerging technologies [ETs], of which there are four: telepresence; physical security or video surveillance; digital media and signage; and IP interoperability and collaboration systems server [Ipics]. The latter is taking forms of voice and push-to-talk radios and bringing them together using an IP backbone.
Our ET team looks at how to do things differently than we would with our advanced products (APs). ETs are version 1.0 products or 2.0 at best. We know they don't have the features they need to meet all markets our sales force want to go and sell to. So we're taking a very deliberate and focused approach through specific customer segments and a smaller set of partners. These partners have specific skill sets that help us get into those adjacent market.
Who comes up with the ideas for technologies?
Martin De Beer runs the emerging technologies unit. He is responsible for what we call internal ventures: like little startups under the Cisco umbrella. Within Cisco we have a wiki, which all employees can go into and submit ideas. That's been open for eight months. At the moment, there are 250 kind-of interesting ideas in this wiki. Martin's goal is to bring to market 15 new emerging technologies over the next five years.
We've also got the research group, and we're tied in pretty tightly with the venture capital folks. Once all of those ideas are in, we as a board evaluate them and go through a lot of business modelling to see if it makes sense. We're not going to go sell bananas because we can make money - it has to be tied closely to our business. Then we'll incubate a small business unit, test the technology and see how it's going. It will either become something we take to the field, or we'll eliminate it.
So at present you're just focused on four streams?
We have another four we're evaluating closely. I can't tell you what they are but, at a high level, we are focused on industries that have typically been analogue and looking at opportunities that exist moving those to IP.
To give you an example: one partner has developed services using IP surveillance for when they deliver products to retail outlets. Typically, they've delivered during the day because someone has to be there, look at the boxes, and so on. Now they're doing it at night using IP. There's a couple of people sitting remotely, and when the truck pulls up, they approve them and watch them unload. So from a business model, it's completely changed. But they can still watch the individual delivery and see exactly where that person would go within the store.
What are some other drivers influencing Cisco's emerging technologies unit?
A lot of Cisco partners have come with us on this journey from what we call foundation technologies [routing and switching], to adopt some advanced technologies. These other applications we're bringing out - like radio interoperability or physical security - move them into totally different places within their customer base. As a partner, they see these applications that ride on the network as establishing them as real value-added, trusted advisors.
Telepresence, for instance, takes a partner from installing routing and switching and maybe some telephony, up into the boardroom. Digital signage gets you into the marketing side. The challenge is there's a lot to choose from. What we're
saying to partners is to be careful: make sure you place your bets in an appropriate way and get the skill sets and support to drive these business.
Do you have programs in place to help partners measure ETs?
In some cases, we'll use a program we call Authorised Technology Partner. This is a hand-selected group that we give specific training and tools to and maybe incentives [for example, Dimension Data in Australia and its early role with telepresence]. Our team tries to build the whole framework.
So does Cisco have partners in all of the four ETs ready to go?
We have focused partners in each of those technologies, and in some cases, we're looking to expand. Ultimately, we will scale up size. Our end game is to have the right number of partners in each theatre [geographic region] that can take these technologies into the market and be an extended sales force for Cisco.
What specific verticals are you targeting with ETs?
We're in the process of finalising our go-to market right now and will communicate with partners over the coming weeks. Video surveillance has the best fit and most customer references in casinos and gaming. So that's going to be a real focus for us there. We think the next segment is retail. Down the road, we expect to scale it out to all types of enterprises and government customers.
We think digital signage has a significant play with financial services and branch banking. Our Ipic solution is really tailored to public safety and emergency first responders, so local municipalities, cities and counties seem to be a logical fit.
This must bring Cisco up against completely different competitors in those markets.
Competitors as well as unique partners. My team spends a lot of time with partners that say "Ok Cisco, you're changing the game in terms of taking it from analogue to digital, but let me tell you how these companies do business". Sometimes we are recruiting partners that haven't been Cisco partners. In other cases, they're existing partners building the skill sets.
What will the emerging technologies division look like in 5-10 years' time?
We expect to have between 15-20 emerging technologies. Ultimately, the goal is to take them from emerging to advanced technologies and move them into another business unit. That's when they become advanced technologies and eventually foundation technologies that are core to the business. At some point, we may eliminate them or repurpose the technology and assets.