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Cisco is gearing up to create a channel program to support its recently acquired WebEx business unit in the channel.

The nature of WebEx, which provides collaboration software as an online service, will require Cisco to create an agent program to compensate partners that resell the service, said Edison Peres, Cisco vice president and chief go-to-market officer for worldwide channels.

Agent fee models in the channel are always contentious because many solution providers feel technologies that are delivered as a service over the Web don’t create enough opportunity for solution providers to add their own value.

“I hate agent programs,” said Bryan Tate, CEO of Digitel in Atlanta. “They provide no opportunity for us to increase the value of our company.”

Added Ken Presti, president of Presti Research and Consulting in Sunnyvale, Calif.: “Creating an agent program around a software-as-a-service offering is an honorable thing to try. But vendors are going to need to tread carefully doing this type of thing.”

Peres said he is well aware of the perceived value of agent programs in the channel, but said that products sold under an agent fee model are usually among the most profitable because little to no investment fee is required of the solution provider.

“We’re going to give partners the equivalent or more of the margin they might make on a product by giving partners 20 percent of the value of the contract for the first year upfront when the customer signs the contract.” said Peres. “And the other benefit is that it keeps the customer from having to go to WebEx direct to get the service.”

The WebEx agent program will only be made available to Cisco partners that are certified in unified communications products.