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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.

Competitors Don’t Mean War: The Value of Strategic Partnerships

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In the IT channel, Strategic Partnerships are commonplace, most notably with the recent collaboration between the two technology giants, Cisco and Apple. The Apple & Cisco partnership is a perfect marriage, Apple gain access to the Enterprise market, whilst Cisco benefit from iOS and facilitate Apple’s entry into the Enterprise arena. But, what exactly is a Strategic Partnership?

Price Waterhouse Cooper define a Strategic Partnership as:

“A strategic partnership involves some shape of formal agreement between two or more parties that have agreed to share finance, skills, information and/or other resources in the pursuit of common goals.”

Sharing

Before a Strategic Partnership has been formalised, firstly ensure that all parties share the same expectations of the outcome of such partnerships. Start by clearly defining shared business objectives, you both might want to achieve A or B, but can you achieve them together? Strategic Partnerships are generally triggered by the existence of shared objectives. For example a Managed Services Provider or Cisco Channel Partner may need Cisco Technical Resources worldwide due to a lack of in-house specialist Cisco Network Engineers. Therefore there exists an implied shared objective, prior to a formalised agreement being signed.

As highlighted in the PwC definition, a successful Strategic Partnership can only be achieved by sharing resources, finance, information and skills. Each company will have a unique strength which the other lacks, therefore combining capabilities allows both partners to access new markets, increase product/service offerings, increase revenues and embark on a mutually beneficial knowledge sharing relationship. Strategic Partnerships are a viable alternative to traditional growth strategies including organic growth, angel investors and borrowing.

Culture & Values

A 2013 CIPD survey showed that 60-70% of Strategic Partnerships fail, often triggered by a mismatch in culture and company values. The lesson learned from this statistic is to choose your partners based on common shared values and company culture. If your company has an aggressive sales culture who earn their competitive advantage via low prices, then your ideal partner isn’t a company who values quality of service over price.

Achieving a cultural fit where both parties share values, should not be underestimated. A written agreement will specify relevant KPI’s including volume of sales, quality of service and conflict management. However, in the blink of an eye, the days and months of negotiations can be destroyed with a cultural faux pas. Obvious cultural differences occur when partnering with an international partner in body language, linguistics and beliefs. However, more subtle factors like equality, gender balance and employee & stakeholder engagement can contribute to a failed or successful Strategic Partnership.

Ease of Integration

After agreeing on shared objectives, resources and culture, integration is the next step before the partnership is good to go. The theory of how companies form a partnership is the easy part, now it’s time to fit the final pieces together.

Integration is the point where 2 (or more) companies in a Strategic Partnership become one entity. What type of information is shared between parties? What processes should be implemented to directly deal with joint customers? What systems are implemented to process enquiries, sales and communications?

When a Cisco Channel Partner or ICT Provider, needs to book a Cisco Network Engineer from a Cisco Professional Services partner onto a client site, there needs to be a unified and coherent system used by both parties. A scope of work will be agreed along with timescales, prices and quality standards. Mapping systems would be in place so all partners can identify where Network Engineers are working and how and when to book the next available one: all contributing to a seamless synergy between Strategic Partners.

Have you experienced a Strategic Partnership where only 1 party truly benefits? Have you been involved in a Partnership where you value quality of service but your partner values low price more? Tell us your horror and success stories 🙂

Experts Add Value, Amateurs Add Costs – The Value of Hiring Cisco Network Experts

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Many VAR’s, Channel Partners and MSP’s are responsible for allocating the correct technical resource to monitor and manage their client’s IT Networks. Do they hire an external Cisco Network Engineer or allocate an in-house generalist IT Administrator?

IT Experts and Network experts have distinct specialisms and require the application of a significantly unique set of skills. IT Administrators tend to a multitude of IT duties ranging from desktop support to software installation & configuration. Cisco Network Engineers on the other hand are more specialised with typical duties ranging from VPN tunnelling to intricate network designs.

Organisations can be reluctant to hiring external experts as they prefer to assign generalist in-house IT staff to attempt complex networking tasks, often to the detriment to the end client.

Limited Internal Resources

Ask an IT/Systems Administrator for almost any VAR, MSP or Channel Partner what their duties are, and their answer will be “Everything!” They need to monitor & fix, software & hardware, back up data, enhance performance, security, storage and the list goes on. Internal IT & Engineering Departments are generally lacking in specific IT specialist functions. It would sink many businesses to the bottom of the ocean if they had experts in Cisco, Juniper, F5, Microsoft, Dell and Citrix who all need regular work. Not only do you need vendor specialists, you also need to have them situated in every single country where your clients are located.

It is therefore imperative to realise the limitations of the technical resources you have at your disposal in-house. You can hire an external expert in Cisco Networks or you can muddle along with what you have.

The Problem with Muddling Along

Tux, the Linux Mascot trying to put a square peg in a round hole

Round pegs fit into square pegs no problem, but they don’t stay there as the wrong tool has been used for the job. Holding your extremely expensive network together with sticky tape and a few short term fixes may solve an immediate problem, but it will simply add to the magnitude of problems brewing underneath those sub-standard fixes.

Systems administrators or IT generalists may be able to maintain and manage basic network functions, but complex configurations and designs MUST be left to the experts. If you need a CCNP Wireless, then hire one, if you need a CCIE Security, hire one. Prices from one Cisco Engineer to another varies depending on individual skill sets and market experience, where that experience should not be underestimated or undervalued. Technical couriers are often hired by organisations instead of paying the market price for a CCNA Engineer in an effort to minimise the cost of technical resourcing.

Muddling along might save you a penny or two in the short-term, but if I was your client, I certainly wouldn’t be satisfied that my critical business problems are solved with inferior solutions. Clients pay a premium price to have their networks maintained and managed, subsequently only premium solutions will suffice.

Quality of Service

Cisco certifications are highly regarded by Enterprise organisations, VAR’s, MSP’s & Channel Resellers, yet lower prices too often take precedence over quality of service. Cisco hardware is the backbone of all networks in almost every Enterprise organisation, which requires the application of Cisco best practises at all times to guarantee quality and continuity of service.

Here I’ll be bold and hail Cisco Certified Engineers as the best the market has to offer, no other certification comes close. When a CCNA or CCIE Engineer is assigned to complete a specific Network task there is no other IT Expert or Technician more qualified, experienced or skilled to successfully do so: round pegs for round holes.

By allocating anything other than a Cisco Certified Engineer to tackle a Cisco Network task is prioritising price over quality of service delivered. Cisco experts may be more expensive than the cheaper in-house generalist option, but if you think experts are expensive, wait and see how much amateurs cost you.