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Cisco Systems and its solution provider partners are hoping a "save to invest" strategy will drive new revenues with innovative solutions that help end users create efficiencies and cut costs.

Denny Trevett, Cisco’s director of operations, says solutions that partners found successful in the past aren’t as relevant in the current economy.

“The same solutions they were driving the last few years aren’t as relevant, so solution providers have to focus on how they can provide a positive impact on cash-strapped customers’ business,” he says.

“When we say ‘save to invest,’ it means that solution providers have to realize that customers want to make investments in new areas, but to do that they have to save money someplace else,”  he adds.

Trevett says business-technology consumers are focused on increasing productivity of existing employees using technology such as telepresence and Web conferencing.

“Even internally at Cisco, we’ve been hosting a lot of in-person meetings using technology rather than having engineers travel,” he says. In one example, Trevett says 11 engineers were told to use telepresence and video conferencing instead of travelling to visit their accounts. The result has been a 65 percent reduction in travel expenses, he says.

This shift in philosophy not only saved money, but allowed Cisco’s engineers to increase the number of partners they serviced two- to threefold, Trevett said. And the solution providers serviced by those engineers didn’t seem to mind.

“Partners said to us, ‘We don’t care if that engineer is physically in my office in person or if they’re via video, I just need them to be there to help me,’” he says.

The "save to invest" strategy has application across vertical markets including retail, health care and the financial services industry, where Cisco partners continue to see customer wins, Trevett says.

In health care, for instance, technologies such as a nurse call system that involves a voice-activated badge operating over wireless infrastructure can provide partners with both new product sales opportunities, but also the ability to wrap wireless and unified communications (UC) integration services and security services around the sale, he says.

“When partners invest in these kinds of solutions they are often not just upgrading infrastructure, but are wrapping services around the sale – they’re addressing a business conversation first,” he says.

For retail customers, Trevett says, solution providers can capitalize on the "save to invest" strategy by providing consolidation services around servers and storage. These services can allow retail customers to slash costs on physical space as well as maintenance and management costs.

No cost-saving strategy would be complete without mentioning virtualization, and Trevett says Cisco’s aggressive plans to increase server and network virtualization continue.

“Virtualization can allow companies to get a lot more ROI out of the infrastructure and investments they’ve already got,” he said and also provide tie-ins to data center, WAN and wireless technologies as well as security.

Cisco is encouraging partners to perform various assessments and consulting services based on their specific skill sets, Trevett says. That can include network assessments for voice capabilities, wireless assessments for possible unified communications implementations as well as network configuration assessments to help drive greater efficiencies.

“We want to focus on the kinds of services partners can offer around all of these technologies. We want to be more business-relevant to our customers, so where do we start, and what can we do?” he says.

Creating new services around these existing technologies will help prepare solution providers and customers for more advanced networking applications in the future, Trevett says. Cisco believes "the network is the platform," and that platform becomes the basis not just for new product sales but for services aimed to protect, manage and maintain these applications as they are served to businesses and end users, he says.

“There are lots of opportunities for solution providers to sell an assessment inexpensively, and a very large percentage of those customers end up making a services purchase,” says Trevett.