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Cisco Field Engineers, the boots on the ground from CCNA-CCIE level from 4CornerNetworks

Cisco Field Engineers

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Monitoring, managing and maintaining IT Networks has evolved in recent years with innovations in network management tools, cloud storage and Software Defined Networking. Solar Winds seems to be the network management tool of choice and the recent $67Billion Dell-EMC acquisition shows the market focus on cloud storage is altering the landscape for IT Networks. Such advancements in methodology and technology has led to the demise of in-house Field Engineering teams. MSP’s, Cisco Channel Partners and Telecommunications & ICT Providers have all reduced their focus and expenditure on their in-house Cisco Field Service capabilities.

However not all network upgrades and faults can be rectified remotely. Network management tools are limited to identifying bottlenecks, firmware upgrades and faults, but at some point your clients will need the expert help of Cisco Field Engineers. Until network management tools or SDN can develop Artificial Intelligence, grow legs and hands armed with screwdrivers to rack and stack, people need people to solve network issues.

Expansion of Capabilities

Austerity and cost-cutting are best of friends and many Enterprise companies and SME’s have not only reduced their Field Engineering Services but their NOC’s and Technical teams too. IT Networks require Cisco Engineers with specialist skills in Security, Wireless and Collaboration, to name but a few. Employing such a vast range of specialist Cisco Engineers may no longer be cost-effective, but the demand for boots on the ground remains buoyant. If the end client is situated in a challenging postcode, remote location and/or requires a specialist Cisco Engineering track, you can choose to send your own in-house Engineer half way across the world, or you can work in partnership with a reputable supplier of Cisco Field Engineering Services.

Strategic partnerships between MSP’s, Channel Partners and Telecomms providers must be complimented by external providers of Cisco Field Engineering Services. The newest advancements in methodologies and technologies may reduce the demand for Cisco Field Engineering Services, but it will NEVER make them obsolete.

Integration

Forming a strategic partnership requires an alignment of capabilities, complementary services and, most importantly, sharing knowledge. You could chose to form a simple client/customer relationship, but the benefits of integrating organisations help to deliver market-leading service delivery and customer service.

When an MSP, Cisco Partner or Telecomms/ICT provider employ the services of an external Cisco Field Support company, those two companies need to deliver services as one entity. Both organisations need to integrate departments, processes and technology. Departments integrate when Project Managers, Account Managers, Operations Co-ordinators and Cisco Field Engineering Teams align objectives and targets. Define duties, roles and responsibilities and always assign a designated contact and point of escalation within each organisation. Frequent and open communications is a tangible asset and must not be underestimated or undervalued.

When ICT/Telecommunications providers, MSP’s and Cisco Partners reduce their in-house Cisco Field Engineering Team, a gap in the market opens up for providers of Cisco Field Support. Apply the same principal to providers of Cisco Field Engineers, they cannot gain access to such lucrative clients on a mass scale. The truth is that neither company can achieve growth, amass industry & operational knowledge & skills or service the end client without the help of one another.

We’d Love To Be A Cisco Partner But…?

strategic-alliances-and-partnerships-can-improve-your-sales-strategy

Cisco Systems Inc. is an awesome company to be affiliated with. Market leaders in Networking Equipment, thought leaders in the world of IT, innovators and disruptors – yet their partnership model may deter companies who’d otherwise be a perfect partnership match. If a company wishes to specialise in delivering Cisco Professional Services rather than Managed Services, Technology Solutions or the Networking Infrastructure – Then becoming a Cisco Partner may prove to be more restrictive than progressive.

 

Constricting Criteria

Cisco set strict criteria to prevent poor quality vendors being affiliated with the Cisco Brand, a commendable approach to ensure Brand consistency & quality of service. However in an era dominated by Technology, might it be feasible to consider that people and not technology may be at the heart of some business models? If a business places a greater emphasis on people (Professional Services) over technology (Managed Service Provider/ICT), then the Cisco partnership model just doesn’t fit.

For example if a company wishes to deliver Cisco Engineering resources in a number of regions, then that company MUST have at least 1 employee with a Cisco ID in each region they operate – If you want to offer Professional Services Internationally, be prepared to pay for employees you don’t need, but Cisco say you do. Some Professional Services companies operate in a variety of international regions, and do so successfully without the need to have an employee with a Cisco ID in each region. In fact employing someone with a Cisco ID in all the regions they operate may help to satisfy the Cisco partnership criteria, but would result in a tremendous increase in operating costs and may even turn a profitable company into a loss-making one. Cisco Engineers can be deployed from a remote location using a retainer or contractor model, so why the need to have a Cisco employee in each region?

Partners also need to have at least 1 specialisation linked to a Cisco product/solution – What if your specialisation isn’t related to a specific Cisco product or suite of products? Often Engineers are faced with a network comprising of HP Server Blades, Cisco Routers, Switches & Firewalls and F5 Load Balancers. Cisco’s rhetoric with partners is focused on providing solutions across the entire network infrastructure, but there’s often a need to have a multi-vendor approach to the network lifecycle. Offering solutions in Unified Communications & Collaboration, Wireless or Security is part of the business model for most IT Professional Services organisations, but if the solution offered is Certified Cisco Engineers, that’s not recognised – only hardware/software is a recognised solution, not people.

Hannah Breeze in a recent CRM article wrote that Cisco admitted their current partnership model & annual audits “Caused Partners a lot of hassle” and that the overwhelming consensus from existing Cisco partners asked Cisco to “Ease Up”. Enduring annual audits and submitting 10 customer satisfaction survey results twice annually soon starts to take a toll on your employees, time and capital.

 

You Don’t Need Tin To Win

Cisco Systems are market leaders in the provision of networking hardware, but not everyone wants or benefits from selling it. For a company specialising in Professional Services the lure of a 1-2% profit margin when selling hardware vs the profit margins available on deploying Engineers, making the decision to “bin the tin” is a no-brainer. Of course Cisco hardware is essential for the provision of Cisco Engineers, clients continuously demand the best networking hardware, and Cisco duly obliges. However for a specialist Professional Services Company, selling hardware is simply an exercise in generating revenue rather than profits – vanity over sanity.

 

Power to the People

Cisco Systems Inc. is renowned for their market leading position in the provision of networking equipment, their innovations with smart cities and the Internet of Everything – but the key strength of Cisco is their people. No other vendor offers qualifications held in such high-regard across international borders, everyone knows and values Engineers with a CCNA, CCNP or CCIE certification. Cisco Certified Engineers have an excellent understanding of multiple vendors, their equipment and the network infrastructure – all a result of the quality of training and examination needed to earn a Cisco Certification.

Regardless if you offer Professional Services, Managed Services or Networking Solutions, the essential ingredient is Cisco Engineers – the people. As an organisation Cisco Systems create their own industry – distributors selling hardware, colleges selling certifications and partners selling Finance & Services. Diversification and growth is achieved through careful acquisitions and Cisco is a darling of the NYSE – their plans for the future are solid. However a plan is useless without successful implementation and this is where Cisco excels. Achieving the vision of the future with the Internet of Everything, hardware needs to be installed and maintained, Consultants need to design networks and the Cisco wheels need to keep churning – There is no future without Cisco Engineers.

 

Sitting on the Fence

For organisations choosing to specialise in Professional Services, sitting on the fence may be the best strategy to adopt. Becoming a Cisco Partner may result in dangerous levels of exposure, too many employees, too much capital expenditure or being forced to adopt a precarious infrastructure that lacks the flexibility to respond to market demands. Therefore by electing to be a Cisco-centric company, but not becoming a partner ensures continued success. If close affiliates to Cisco can create and prove a profitable business model, with exponential growth which is outside the realms of their partnership criteria, then reciprocation is needed to establish a functioning partnership.

The purpose of this blog article is to open up debate surrounding the Cisco partnership model. Do you think Professional Services as a business model can work without being a Cisco partner? If you’re a Cisco partner what would you recommend? Feel free to comment on this article – musings, rants and opinions are all welcome.