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On 2nd of March, Cisco made three new product and service announcements for the small and mid-market business segments. With these announcements, Cisco is continuing to show its commitment and focus for empowering the SMB segment and enabling its partner community to efficiently and effectively serve such market.
These three new announcements are a new platform for SMB collaboration (UC300 & BE 3000); a program to empower partners with the resale of WebEX solutions; and improved sales support to the SMB partner community with the Partner Advisor. These offerings are immediately available in the US and UK, and will gradually roll out in other European countries as Cisco completes the localization activities.
The Cisco UC300 series is a very important step towards empowering small businesses to have a voice of their own, literally. Priced at US$165 per user, UC300 series can support up to 24 users and provides one single platform for voicemail, wireless, auto attendant, remote access, and mobile links. We feel this is an important and affordable platform for many of the small businesses who are still sitting on the fence as far as having a well connected communication and collaboration system among its employees. It is also extremely suitable for those small businesses which have grown organically and have multiple communication devices and have either fully or partially deployed VoIP systems.
For higher end small business users and the lower end of the mid-market businesses, Cisco announced its Business Edition 3000 which can support up to 300 users and is priced at US$100 per user. The platform not only provides capabilities for a single number, soft phones, auto attendant, click to call, mobility link, but also is able to connect up to 10 different sites.
Technologies such as collaboration and web conferencing are increasingly becoming important to SMBs to satisfy their priority to make employees more productive. As SMBs tighten budgets for items such as travel, such collaboration and conferencing solutions take center stage. While some solutions have been around for a long time, we believe that broad adoption among SMBs is upon us as evidenced by the priority assigned to such technologies vs. the current level of penetration. And with the announcements of UC300 and BE 3000, Cisco is playing right within the sweet spot of empowering the SMBs.
Similarly, mobile devices and enabling technologies are perhaps the most exciting space today remaining somewhat resilient even in a severe downturn. SMBs have always had a strong desire for mobile products and things became more interesting since Apple released its iPhone. As smart phones expand their empowering abilities, SMBs have strongly taken to accessing email, conferencing, collaborating and using social networking when mobile. A unified, affordable and simple to deploy platform suddenly helps the small businesses.
Small businesses have actively begun to use social media to create awareness about their business. According to Techaisle’s most recent survey, 70% plan to use social media in the next 12 months which is a positive sign, however 45% are not sure how it could help their business. Nevertheless, it is comforting to know that platforms from Cisco can provide that consolidated enablement across all different devices and solutions that are being used by SMBs. Another recent survey on Cloud Computing shows that besides industry specific applications, communications/collaboration and general business productivity applications including CRM are fastest growing. The inflection point for cloud based services is evident when business hit 20 or more employees. This again points to the fact that Cisco seems to have done its homework and instead of following a technology paradigm, has introduced a real business solution paradigm.
More focus on supporting Partners with dedicated personnel
Cisco announced also the introduction of Partner Advisor. With this enabling element of its partner programs, Cisco is catching up with the more traditional instrument of back-office support that is customary for the small/mid-sized reseller. Cisco Partner Advisor, which is to be deployed globally during this year, includes a one stop source for sales support and information such as product selection, promotion, pricing, financing and ordering.
The Cisco Partner Advisor is to be delivered both through the use of a dedicated myCisco online portal and, more importantly, with dedicated live agents’ organization – recognizing that distribution is a people business and resellers requires personal touch. The physical locations of the agents’ organization and their ability to solve issues for resellers will be the test ground for success of this investment Cisco is making. Dedicated to support the smaller resellers, not all Cisco’s partners will be allowed access to the Partner Advisor services.
Andrew Sage, Vice-President of Worldwide Small Business Sales, Cisco said at the announcement, “Our partners are the center of our business at Cisco, and we will do whatever we can to help them succeed. Our new Cisco Partner Advisor initiative uses both people and technology to help our small and mid-market business partners to begin or continue working with Cisco to get the immediate sales and programs help they need.”
Partner-Led WebEx: Cisco shows how the channel can drive Cloud Services
Cisco is bullish here, and rightly so. A chance to talk to customers, different ways to sell collaboration features, application sharing and complementing the new product launch, Cisco announced that Partners will be able to bundle or resell in their offerings Cisco WebEx Online Services.
Whilst this will be offered to users at published prices, this enabling & recurring revenue stream has all the writings of a strong lock leverage which competitors will find difficult to neutralize in the quest for new partners. Additionally, this appears to be a great integration example for Cloud based services offered by the reselling channel for others to follow.
Ian Pennell, Senior Vice-President, Small Business Technology Group and Co-Chair, Small Business Council, Cisco also showed his commitment for small businesses and the partner community that serves that segment by saying, “Cisco continues to be 100 percent committed to giving our partners and the customers they serve the easy-to-use technology innovation they need to succeed. Our partners and customers have told us they want simple unified communications solutions to help them stay ahead of their competition. Cisco is ready to meet that need.”