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Got customers who run call centers? It’s an environment where networking
becomes mission critical, and when the network is down so is the business.

While plenty of managed services platforms provide the kind of proactive
monitoring to reduce server downtime, it can be a real specialty to provide the
same kind of proactive monitoring for networking devices at a company where
networking is mission critical.

Offering that kind of service through channel partners was the idea behind
Cisco’s Smart Care service, introduced
three years ago
as a way for small and midsize Cisco channel partners to
gain an entry point into the managed services business.

And it’s a message that customers seemed attuned to these days. Cisco’s Smart
Care service bookings have grown by 197 percent from February 2009 to February
2010. Contracts signed have grown by 93 percent over the same period.

Smart Care lets partners take the services, wrap their own additional offerings
around them and resell the whole package to end customers, setting their own
prices. The main downside is that the offering only works with Cisco equipment.
But for Cisco partners, the service can offer the opportunity to create a real
value-added offering.

That’s just what Converge Technology Group did three years ago when it first
signed on as a beta channel partner to the Cisco Smart Care program. CTG
had already been providing networking managed services to its customers at the
time, cobbled together on its own, CTO Steve
Drgon told Channel Insider.  The firm sold such services to customers with
250 to 2,500 seats and several locations across the United
States.

Cisco knew about CTG’s own offering and
invited the company to become part of the beta.

“Adding Smart Care allowed us to provide a much higher level of support service
to clients while maintaining or reducing their costs,” said Drgon, something
that served the company well as the world entered an era of recession. “A lot
of clients have been in lockdown mode in terms of saving costs.”

By replacing some of what it offered with Cisco’s Smart Care, CTG
was able to reduce its own costs of providing the service while still
maintaining its own branding and wrapping additional services around the
offering. Clients were pleased with having a single number to call for any type
of system outage, configuration assistance, and any moves and changes.

And the system also provided proactive monitoring for issues such as security
vulnerabilities.

“In unified computing we are looking at about 150 different variables that
could be predictors to failure. Based on that combination, we are able to help
predict failures and avoid them. It lets us take a more proactive approach,”
Drgon said.

CTG has seen over a 100 percent growth rate
for its CTG Care private label networking
managed services program between 2008 and 2009 and is expecting a 100 percent
growth rate from 2009 and 2010 as well.

“Our clients in this area needed more support last year but didn’t have the
money to spend on it,” said Drgon.

“We have some of the highest level of certifications with Cisco, but Cisco’s
services were typically only available to large systems integrators,” he said.
“Offering us the ability to use Smart Care to pass that level of service along
to our clients has made a big difference to us.”

Xceptional Networks wasn’t an early adopter of Cisco Smart Care, but CEO
Chris McKewon set a mandate a year and a half ago that the company, which
caters to commercial and hospitality customers, would focus more on recurring
revenue and managed services to even out its spiky revenue flow.

“Being a project business your revenue comes and goes,” he said. “We were
looking for avenues to smooth that out and have more dependable, predictable
revenue streams.”

Xceptional has performed network assessments for about 30 or 40 of its
customers, and about 10 so far have signed on for Smart Care. Other customers
have stuck with SmartNet, Cisco’s hardware maintenance. But interest is
growing.

“In general, customers are much more interested today in managed services than
they were two or three years ago,” McKewon said.  It allows them to spread
their costs out rather then spend their budget all at once.

Cisco’s Smart Care program puts a Cisco-owned appliance on the customer site to
provide the assessment, discovery, security, management and monitoring
services. The device sends that information back to a Cisco-hosted back end
that the partner then monitors via a Web interface, according to Jim McDonnell,
director of technical support for Cisco Services.

McDonnell told Channel Insider that Cisco counts about 1,200 end customers of
the Smart Care program and about 150 active channel partners offering the
service. The company is looking to expand to partners who are both a little
smaller and a little larger than the typical partner who is offering the
service today.

McDonnell said the program has seen a spike in uptake over the past few
quarters as Cisco has worked harder to spread the word. Partner growth has
spiked by 74 percent in Cisco’s first half of fiscal 2010.