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Keith Goodwin, Cisco’s senior vice president of worldwide channels, deserves an Oscar for his performance at the Cisco Partner Summit last week in Boston. When his colleague Andrew Sage finished talking about collaboration and the utility of the Flip video camera, Goodwin playfully asked how he could get one. Sage, vice president of worldwide small business sales, told him that he could buy one for about $249 at any electronics store. Goodwin, in a bit of staged banter, said, “Let me repeat myself, how can I get one?” To which Sage surrendered his Flip HD.

The choreography was perfect. The bit provided Goodwin and Sage the right opportunity to announce that all 1,500 conference attendees would receive a Flip HD (roughly a $375,000 price tag), and they were encouraged to take videos and load up on social networks.

In the next keynote, Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior (what a cool name) describe video as one of the four pillars of our “future connective life” and the Flip video recorder as an integral piece of the network infrastructure. In her words, “Flip is not really about the device, but the architecture; the user-generated content that can be uploaded and shared.”

Cisco, as a company, is a true believer in the social networking revolution and the application of both enterprise and consumer Web 2.0 applications to business uses. Besides the Flip, Cisco launched “The Vibe,” a conference-driven social networking-microblogging site that looked suspiciously like Twitter, and conducted virtual sessions and online simulcast for partners that couldn’t attend the proceedings in Boston.

While Flip is clearly a commercial product – the fifth-fastest selling electronic gadget (the iPhone being first), its presence amid Cisco’s vast portfolio of enterprise products is a bit of an anomaly. But its Warrior’s description of the Flip as a piece of the architecture that’s intriguing. As Alex Thurber, the director of Go-To-Market strategies for Cisco’s worldwide partner program, explains, the Flip is more a catalyst for enterprise capacity expansion and a relevant piece of partner and customer collaboration.

The catalyst part of this equation is easy to see. No sooner did Cisco start handing out those Flip cameras did raw video by partners at the conference start appearing on Cisco’s own social network, Twitter and YouTube. The impact was immediate, and follows a general trend toward using video as a means of conveying marketing messages, collaborating with customers and partners, and sharing experiences with your community.

Perhaps, however, the Flip is more an analogy for the need to think differently. Goodwin and other Cisco executives talked at length about the need to look to the future, collaborate, anticipate customer need and develop products, solutions and business models that meet those needs. Part of the problem Cisco and its partners face is that people can see the future even without holding a Flip camera in their hands, but they’re powerless to address those needs without a clear justification. Solution providers attending the 1nService dinner last week in Boston concur that the refresh cycle is all but dead in the business environment. Doing more with less has taken on the dual meaning of “doing more with older.”

The other recurring message at the Cisco summit was the vendor’s investment in rebates and sales incentives for partners selling core technologies, such as switches and routers. Cisco is staring down a market that is using more than $9 billion in product use that’s already passed its planned service life and another $14 billion that’s approaching that mark. Expansions in its VIP (Value Incentive Program) and rebates up to 15 percent for hardware products is more a reflection of the shellacking Cisco and other hardware vendors have taken over the last three quarters.

Cisco wants—needs—its partners to sell more of its core technologies while it continues to develop emerging technologies—such as telepresence, unified computing systems and video technologies. Virtual worlds, video conferencing and simulating and home-spun videos are great tools for communicating and collaborating—as Thurbers says, “with video, you can tell if someone really gets it or not.” But the reality is Cisco is looking to flood the existing network with more packages of data to force reluctant businesses to loosen up their wallets and upgrade.

Much has been said in recent years about the consumerization of the enterprise. As Apple iPhones, Webcams and MP3 players migrate from the home PC to the work PC, so too will the higher traffic loads that come with it. Perhaps Cisco is right that consumer electronics and many of the online features users get at home will translate into higher bandwidth requirements in the enterprise and force upgrades. If that happens, we’ll all be doing “flips.”

Lawrence M. Walsh is vice president and group publisher of Channel Insider. Read his research reports at [CI] Perspectives.

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