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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

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