Cisco Shakes Up Partner Training, Specializations

By Chris Talbot  |  Print this article Print

Cisco Systems is introducing new architecture specializations that will change the requirements for Gold and Silver partner designations. Cisco introduced the concept of the technology architecture strategy at its partner summit in March.

Cisco Systems is introducing new architecture specializations that will have a direct impact on the requirements needed to attain and maintain Gold and Silver partner level designations. The new specializations will also affect Premier partners but to a lesser extent.

Going forward, Gold and Silver partner levels within the Cisco Channel Partner Program will be based not on advanced technology specializations, but on the new architecture specializations – Advanced Borderless Networks Architecture Specialization, Advanced Collaboration Architecture Specialization and Advanced Data Center Architecture Specialization. Naturally, partners will be given time to skill up.

"Partners saw the opportunity and a number of partners are already playing at the architectural level and bringing architectural experiences to customers," said Ricardo Moreno, senior director of strategy, planning and programs at Cisco Systems.

Cisco executives have been talking about the technology architecture approach for the last two years, but the company took a big step forward at Partner Summit 2011 at the beginning of March with the introduction of its technology architecture strategy, which includes three architecture approaches that match up with the new specializations.

According to Moreno, the announcements at Partner Summit – the Collaborative Professional Services, the Smart Business Architecture series of architectural blueprints, marketing kits for partners – paved the way for the architectural approach to technology sales that Cisco believes will dominate in the years ahead. There was one missing piece, though, he noted. The partner program hadn’t yet been evolved to match the rest of the Cisco message. The introduction of the architecture specializations brings the program in line with the rest of the strategy.

To maintain existing their partner levels, channel partners will need to skill up on the specializations. To be a Cisco Gold partner today, partners are required to have four advanced technology specializations. Now they’ll need to be certified in all three architecture specializations. Silver partners today have to have two advanced technology specializations, but the new requirements include one advanced technology and architecture specialization. Premier partners have to have Express Foundation today, but in the future, they’ll have the choice between Express Foundation or one architecture specialization. There are no changes to the Select partner level.

"We’re asking partners to go through more training because the skill sets required for architectures are more than for technologists," Moreno said. The architecture specializations will give Cisco partners a way to differentiate themselves and prove their capabilities to customers, he said.

Starting in August 2011, partners will have the opportunity to submit applications for these requirements, but it won’t be until a year later that the requirements for the partner levels will go into effect. Depending on when their anniversary for resale certification renewal is, partners will need to meet the new requirements between August 2012 and July 2013.

There’s a lot of training ahead for partners, but the good news is Cisco has reduced the cost of achieving a new Gold certification by about $50,000. Depending on the approach they take, existing Gold partners will need to spend between 12 and 150 hours to train up to the new requirements of Gold level. Cisco will also offer up to $5,000 in Cisco Learning Credits to the first 500 partners that register.

Learning partners, of course, haven’t been forgotten. Cisco has approximately 450 learning partners around the world, and their requirements are changing, too. Cisco is introducing a new level of learning partner to go along with the Associate level that has been with the company for more than 15 years. Specialized level partners will focus on architecture training, and will need to attain the appropriate learning certifications in at least one architecture.

"Some of the learning partners will certainly choose more than one of the specializations, but the requirement is just one of the specializations," said Andres Sintes, global director of worldwide learning partner channels at Cisco Systems.

Sintes noted that Cisco has been working with the top 10 percent of its learning partners for the last 12 to 18 months, so approximately 50 learning partners have already evolved to become Specialized learning partners. By the end of 2011, Sintes expects that 20 to 25 percent of learning partners will be branded as Specialized.

"The market is asking for it. Customers are asking for it. Because of that, we believe there is a lot of opportunity for our partners to show value, increase their margin and differentiate themselves," Moreno said.