SAN DIEGO — If new Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins has a mantra of faster, new global channel chief Wendy Bahr is accompanying that with a mantra of “simpler.” In her first Partner Summit as global channel chief since taking over the worldwide job last year, Bahr detailed her top priorities in the ongoing evolution of Cisco’s partnering program and incentives.
One of the first manifestations of Bahr’s vision will be a rethinking of how its Value Incentive Program (VIP) is structured, starting with the security competencies under it. Bahr said the current structure is simply too complex, with 10,000 SKUs represented under VIP, and 4,600 SKUs in security alone, with seven different payout levels for partners. Under the revised program, security will be represented by four categories — hardware products, one year licenses, multi-year licenses, and perpetual licenses — and four payout levels across those categories.
The security program changes will be made in VIP27, which will be used as a pilot before it moves across more of Cisco’s architectural areas in VIP28 and beyond in the company’s 2017 fiscal. Bahr said it was important to go slow and get the transition right.
“In the world of a complex channel, the want to avoid unintended consequences,” she said. “When we reach VIP28, we’ll have a better sense of how to go bigger.”
The changes won’t change the nature or purpose of VIP, she added. The program will still be regularly tweaked to point partners towards what Cisco sees as new key market opportunities. But the changes should “make it easier to understand where payouts come from” for partners, she said.
Bahr also introduced new classifications for solution providers around its software portfolio, opting to introduce what the company calls new “Software Roles” that partners can choose to play. She said the company had initially intended to launch a software-specific channel program, but upon reflection, decided that adding another full-on program was working counter to the goal of making the program simpler.
“In the past, in a much simpler era of selling hardware you would see us announce a big program,” Bahr said. “In this world, we see this as more evolutionary steps and we will offer options for partners to play different roles in the ecosystem.”
Initial roles for partners, slated for launch in May, include Software Lifecycle Advisor, which includes driving the adoption, expansion and renewal of software deals, and Software Integrator, which is more about programming, devops, and API management. A third “role,” addressing software consulting, is slated to be introduced before the end of 2016.
Along with simplification, Bahr held up alignment — specifically alignment between Cisco’s own sales team and partner programs — as a top priority for the company’s global partner organization. That need for alignment, Bahr said, is a key reason the company is running two Partner Summits this year, and in 2017 and beyond will host its annual partner confab in the fall, around the same time as its own fiscal year kick-off activities. She admitted that choosing to double up on an event as complex — and one booked as far in advance — as Partner Summit has posed some challenges for the company and placed some additional pressures on partners, but in line with CEO Robbins’ assessment that the company’s business, and the world around it, are changing faster than ever, she said there’s not a lack of discussions to have with partners.
“I’m not at all concerned that we won’t have anything to talk about in November,” she said, joking that after this week’s event here, “We’ll take a day or two off, take a deep breath, and then we’ll get right back at it.”