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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

Brand Equity - A New Prescription for Cisco’s SMB Channel Partner Success

Cisco and the SMB market

Cisco has established an undisputed leadership position in the enterprise market. The company combines a widely-adopted and well-integrated portfolio of networking products with a highly-skilled (and paid) direct sales force to manage/expand its presence within major accounts.

The SMB market is a separate challenge. Here, buyers are less likely to require integration across multiple network components and more likely to emphasize price. They are also more likely to receive advice/management from channel partners, further reducing Cisco’s control over the acquisition process.

Against this backdrop, Techaisle’s SMB Channel Trends research illustrates the strengths and challenges Cisco must manage, as it looks to expand its share in the SMB segment.

Cisco Commands High Trust and Reputation

Within the channel community, Cisco enjoys a sound reputation and a high degree of trust. Techaisle’s latest SMB channel partner survey shows that 78 percent of Cisco’s SMB channel partners trust Cisco, a higher percentage than is registered by competitors such as HP and IBM. Nearly 70 percent of the partners believe that Cisco has quality products – again, the highest ranking recorded within the ‘hardware leader’ group including Cisco, HP, IBM and others. However, only 52 percent mention that Cisco has cutting edge technology, a percentage lower than that for both IBM and Microsoft. Moreover, 60 percent of Cisco’s SMB channel partners say that they Like Cisco, lower than corresponding rates for HP and Microsoft, only slightly higher than is found for IBM.

In its 2013 Annual report Cisco has written, “A substantial portion of our products and services is sold through our channel partners, and the remainder is sold through direct sales.” With specific reference to SMBs, Cisco wrote, “Generally, we define commercial businesses as companies with fewer than 1,000 employees. The larger, or midmarket, customers within the commercial market are served by a combination of our direct salesforce and our channel partners. These customers typically require the latest advanced technologies that our enterprise customers demand, but with less complexity. Small businesses, or companies with fewer than 100 employees, require information technologies and communication products that are easy to configure, install, and maintain. These smaller companies within the commercial market are primarily served by our channel partners.” Techaisle’s data shows that Cisco has attracted positive attention within this channel partner community, but that its technology and relationships do not leave it especially differentiated from competitors.

Technology Shift has Created SMB Messaging Challenges

In recent years SMB technology demands have shifted to cloud, mobility, analytics, social media, collaboration, managed services and virtualization. Cisco is seeking to capitalize on this market transition through the development of cloud-based product and service offerings that enable its customers develop and deploy their own cloud-based IT solutions.

In communications channel partners in the U.S. including those specializing in the SMB segment – Cisco has been steadily driving them to offer products and services that deploy cloud, mobility, virtualization, managed services and data center solutions. This is by no means an easy task as most SMB channel partners are being actively courted by competitive vendors that also want to grow their emerging technologies’ business. SMB channel partners selling advanced technologies have an average of 3.46 vendor partnerships which average jumps to 4.21 for Cisco SMB partners, a difference of 21 percent. With this increased contention for mind/market/wallet share, it can be difficult for Cisco to manage brand identity and its related messaging.

This difficulty is illustrated by study findings showing that of all the Cisco SMB channel partners, 44 percent consider Cisco to be their top partner. The other 56 percent mention Microsoft, Oracle, HP, IBM and several others. Within the VAR/SI community, Cisco’s share of preference is 48 percent and drops to 39 percent amongst the MSPs/SPs that are viewed as critical to the success of future cloud initiatives.

Cisco’s SMB Channel Partner Brand Equity

Techaisle believes that it is time for a new metric to represent presence (and opportunities for growth) within the SMB market. Techaisle refers to this second-generation measurement approach as Brand Equity Management. It is measured by a robust proprietary index, the Techaisle Brand Equity Score (BES-360).

Techaisle believes that it is important for IT vendors to measure their Brand Equity within SMB channel partners as well as SMBs. Techaisle’s Brand Equity Score, BES-360, helps to identify areas where IT vendors can improve to increase share of wallet. BES-360 is a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) that measures the strength of brand within a segment.

Cisco’s Brand Equity Score within its SMB channel partners is higher than most competitors – but lower than scores for both IBM and Microsoft. The implication of these findings is that even through Cisco has high brand equity amongst its channel partners; it is not necessarily true that its entire SMB-focused channel base is firmly wedded to Cisco’s game plan.

SMB Channel Partner Brand Equity Measurement– the New Prescription

Breaking down the data for Cisco, Techaisle’s study finds that almost 25 percent of Cisco’s channel partners have a Brand Equity rating of 80+. This group forms Cisco’s core partners. The data also shows that almost 35 percent of Cisco’s SMB channel partners have equity of less than 40. These are the partners that Cisco needs to work on.

Interestingly, small business focused channel partners give a higher Brand Equity Score to Cisco than mid-market focused channel partners. This is a segment that Cisco should address as the mid-market has become a battleground for most IT vendors and there is yet no clear dominant player.

Among all SMB channel partners of Cisco, VARs are actually driving up the Brand Equity Score. In fact 41 percent of VARs constitute the HBE (High Brand Equity) group. On the other hand, MSPs constitute only 20 percent. In order for Cisco to continue to grow its CMSP program and build on its initial successes, Cisco has to turn its attention to the MSPs that serve the SMBs to understand the key reasons for lower brand equity which when fixed can lead to better wallet share among MSPs.

Drilling down further into the data, Techaisle finds that Cisco is not doing better within the overall managed services community than it is within MSPs focused on cloud. A higher percentage of Cisco’s HBE partners are offering managed services to SMBs whereas a higher percentage of ABE (Average Brand Equity) partners are offering Cloud to SMBs. Cisco’s SMB cloud ambitions would benefit from moving some of these ABE cloud partners to HBE segment. The HBE segment offering cloud services need extensive training on cloud solutions to become more successful in offering cloud to their SMB customers. More than 40 percent of these channel partners are working with SMB customers that have private cloud. This may be good for Cisco in the short-term but it does not represent best practice in this segment, and it is misaligned with the ongoing acceptance of public cloud as a preferred IT delivery platform.

Product resale revenue is 43 percent for HBE partners as compared to 38 percent for ABE. Similarly, recurring revenue is 57 percent for HBE as compared to 61 percent for ABE. Naturally, this bodes well for Cisco’s current revenue as the High Brand Equity partners are driving higher revenues from products. However, if Cisco plans to increasingly promote service-centric partners then a lot more work is required to identify partners with higher services revenues and move them into the High Brand Equity segment.

Practicing the Prescription

Techaisle’s brand management work is anchored in the belief that if a vendor’s brand equity is good, then it can compete successfully with vendors with lower brand equity for sales of comparable products or services. Vendors with sound products/services but low brand equity will struggle to maintain parity with competitors that have higher brand equity, even if that vendor’s products/services are (somewhat) inferior. Hence, Brand Equity Score findings help indicate potential areas of expansion or exposure as vendors, like Cisco, assess their potential for expanding the footprint of their brands within the SMB channel partner community. The composition of Cisco’s BES across its channel indicates the core strength of its brand. Techaisle’s analysis indicates that Cisco has both strengths to build on and areas requiring focus as it moves to position its next-generation solutions (especially, cloud solutions) through its channel to the SMB market.

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2013 SMB & Channel Outlook, Trends & Predictions: Techaisle Take

All predictions below are compiled based on SMB and channel surveys conducted in 2012 covering Cloud, Mobility, Virtualization, Business Intelligence, Marketing Automation, Managed Services, Business Issues, IT Priorities, Channel Challenges across several countries.

SMB focused Predictions

  • As SMBs continue to adopt cloud computing aggressively they will continue to move away from capital budgets; Revenue will become the focus rather than tight cost control. The buyer will move toward the department that is responsible for delivering business results and thereby revenue. The CMO becomes increasingly important as this unfolds.  Further, countries are coming out of economic slump which was a major factor in the initial move to the Cloud, as firms were scrambling to reduce capital outlays and reduce OPEX. But SMBs are now priming themselves for growth, and the Cloud is firmly established as an important tool to build the business.
  • SMBs’ emphasis on front-office, revenue-generating applications will continue with CRM at the hub and with more marketing automation and business intelligence applications. The base of marketing automation vendors will continue to consolidate as start-ups fail and pure-plays are acquired and big players roll out integrated solutions. Cloud CRM spend will continue to grow at a healthy rate of 21 percent.
  • Communications, Collaboration, Content and Context will be the primary computing scenarios of SMB IT departments, driven by Mobility, Cloud-based Applications and Process Optimization. Virtualization, Cloud, Mobility, Managed Services will together form the Four Pillars of IT that will support the transformation of SMB, enabling them to reach their full potential in the shortest period of time. The foundation for these four pillars will be the datacenter, both off-site and on-premise depending upon SMB segmentation. Techaisle forecasts that global SMB Cloud spend will grow by 22 percent in 2013, Mobility by 14 percent, Managed Services by 15 percent, Virtualization by 25 percent and datacenter by 8 percent.
  • The adoption of cloud-based productivity suites among SMBs will accelerate which will begin to balance usage of collaborative and individual SaaS applications. Office365 will go main stream along with increased usage of ERP and more sophisticated applications, offering new customer and other value-added opportunities in data and application integration. We expect SMB Cloud productivity suites spend will almost double from relatively slow adoption through 2012.
  • There will be a significant increase in emphasis on data integration rather than application integration; data will be combined from several sources to power different application blocks and embedded business intelligence functionality, as we first predicted in 2008.
  • The SMB server and network will start becoming less visible as they progressively move offsite physically and from a remote management perspective. Cloud-based server spend will likely grow by 40 percent as compared to on-premise new server spend growth of 5 percent, the benefits of remote management overwhelming the on premise for headcount-constrained firms.
  • Although social media will gain importance, SMBs will continue to struggle to determine ROMI from their social media initiatives and its usage will be considered a “productivity drainer” by many lean-staffed and short-skilled SMBs, unless they are in a local business that requires high customer intimacy to grow and build business. Aggressive SMB adopters will realize benefits but many others will be disillusioned unless advised, encouraged and shown a path by early adopters. The market will be inundated by advisors causing more confusion, especially as big data analytics start showing strong results for Enterprise-level companies.
  • ISVs will focus their attention on developing client applications that integrate email, context and workflow to build other productivity applications. New business models and solutions from ISVs and Service providers will appear for SMB mobile apps that will deliver content based on context, beginning with a few verticals and then spreading horizontally.
  • BYOD will be the new normal; with priority for SMBs on data and applications management rather than managing devices.
  • The next generation of business intelligence and Mobile BI will be widely adopted within SMBs; Upper mid-market firms will experiment Big Data using combinations of Hadoop and other technology (e.g. Greenplum) whereas lower-mid-market and small businesses will look for insights from federated big data deliverables provisioned by cloud application vendors.

Channel Partner focused Predictions

  • There will be an accelerating trend to vendor direct through development of remote integrated-service interfaces and inbound marketing initiatives. To counter, channel partners will aggressively develop outbound sales capabilities to compete with vendor direct sales and rise of the Independent Consultant to prevent from being cut out of the distribution chain.
  • Successful Channels will finally realize and pursue their individual respective competencies and roles as consultants, business process advisors, integrators, aggregators or plain vanilla cloud deliverers.
  • Expect that channel partners will be more successful going deep with integrated suites or a few applications that they integrate rather than trying to provide a complete infrastructure, communications, applications and vertical solutions.
  • Channel partners will begin to put together a repeatable, profitable SMB solution that will include proprietary integration value-added services or software, accelerated with productivity suites and collaborative combinations, such as Office 365 and SharePoint, or Google Apps, or the new Citrix ApplicationMe@Work or XenDesktop.
  • Cloud aggregators will continue to enter the market, however, few will be profitable as aggregators will need to be able manage reseller relationships with structured sales and marketing programs, implementation and post-implementation support for the channel, and tier-2 customer support for end users.
  • Mid-market focused channels will look up to their vendor partners to help combine mobility, cloud, virtualization offerings while others will rely on a partner-to-partner network

Tavishi Agrawal
Techaisle

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Cisco’s Master Move in Combining Cloud & Managed Services Channel Programs

Announcement

Cisco has announced a new Cloud and Managed Services Program (CMSP) that integrates its currently existing Cloud Provider, Cloud Services and Managed Services Channel Programs (MSCP) into one. Besides streamlining incentives, discounts and payments for its partners, the program also aims to simplify pricing for Cisco-based cloud and managed services offerings. The program will also enable collaboration and sharing of complementary opportunities between partners through a microsite via Cisco’s partner portal. All partners are expected to transition to the CMSP by August 2013.

Techaisle Take

We believe that with one master move Cisco is strategically addressing the US$94 billion global SMB opportunity by 2016.

Techaisle’s global channel surveys have shown that Cloud, Mobility, and Managed Services Solutions together are changing the SMB channel landscape as these solutions are revolutionizing IT utilization by SMBs. The new paradigm would be the "3-in-1" Channels offering Mobility, Cloud, and Managed Services as a single offering. We first wrote about the 3-in-1 channel here. And now Virtualization is quickly becoming a potent arsenal in the SMB channel partners offerings.

Techaisle’s corresponding SMB research has consistently shown that SMBs want mostly integrated solutions to limit complexity and therefore seek partners that are capable of such deliverables but very few partners currently do so as they are all camped in either one or two solution corners and few seem to embrace a holistic solution view - and this is making SMBs unsure of overall benefits and desire to spend.

With its current announcement Cisco is removing some of the barriers by bringing channel partners serving managed services and cloud needs of SMBs under a common cluster. Since many SMBs want to obtain all services from a single provider, it is important for broad product/solution vendors to evaluate all their partners, seek and cluster partners based on where they are with regards to capabilities of delivering complete solutions and introduce programs to support development. As the dividing line between cloud and managed services is becoming thin, Cisco has just done it, that is, created a single program that should:

  • Enable channels to build more dynamic and serious partner-to-partner collaboration to collectively address complementary opportunities

  • Enable Cisco partners to add capabilities, such as, managed services to an existing cloud services

  • Attract newer partners to join Cisco program

  • Help current channel partners qualify and move up Cisco’s channel partner pyramid


The data on the right from Techaisle’s channel study (N=2851) shows that channels that serve the SMB segment are keen to offer multiple services that straddle cloud and managed services. Cisco’s new program should open up opportunity for its channel partners to offer both cloud and managed services using Cisco platforms.

If we look at the survey data at micro-level, we find that is a higher percentage of Channel Partners that are offering some type of Managed Services Solutions than they are offering Mobility Solutions or even Cloud Computing. The channels falling in the green columns will benefit immediately, those in the blue columns will find the program attractive but those within the red columns in the chart would be of immense importance.
Managed Services has been is of more critical importance for SMBs than Cloud or Mobility which is a key reason why there are more Managed Services partners than Cloud Computing providers. Additionally, Managed Services took root a few years back while Cloud Computing is a more recent phenomenon. Mobility has been in existence for a long time, however, it should be considered absolutely new in its current form with the availability & use of several mobile devices & other enabling technologies, namely Cloud & Remote Managed Services.

It is clear that Managed Services has been the most important offering for Channel Partners, as they evolved from a typical value added channel to offering break-fix services and remote managed services.



The path being chosen by Channels to move from one offering to the next is strongly dependent upon their current offering. Those that are in the mobility space are moving to cloud, while those in the cloud are moving to managed services.

Understanding the channel dynamics and current offerings gives clues in the direction they will move. For those that are offering only one of the services there is a clear path to adding services. In fact Techaisle survey shows that the channels have chosen their path of selection.

Channels are also interested in offering mobility solutions, however, it is also clear that mobility has become possible due to cloud and managed services allowing employees to work from anywhere, anytime and from any device.

 

The responsibility now lies with both the channel partners and Cisco to make the program a success. However, there some other steps that Cisco needs to take as well.

  • Extend the reach of its Smart Care to cover cloud based services

  • Develop capabilities that not only work with Cisco's networking devices but also with client devices. Although it must be said that Cisco is addressing some of those needs through its partnerships with other vendors

  • Further the agenda on not only BYOD but also just BYO

  • Market the program aggressively. Channel partners are being courted and trained by many other vendors

  • Use the program to establish a strong presence in the datacenter space


With the latest move, Cisco may have begun to shift the tide in its favor more decisively.

Anurag Agrawal
Techaisle
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China Rising - Mid-Market Onsite and Remote Managed Services nears $3B

A recent Techaisle survey of 1,862 SMBs in China found the market for Onsite/Remote Managed Services has been growing rapidly and is near the $3B mark in the mid-market space; expected to reach $2.847 billion in 2012.

 

Other important points include that the 250-499 employee segment represented the largest share among company sizes, with 47.5% of the total. This is followed by the 100-249 group with ~30% and finally the 500-999 category with ~23%.


On the Services side, PC Services are the largest segment with $800 or 28% of the total, followed by Other Managed Services $509M or 18%, and Server at $485 or 17%, Seven of the top 10 service segments top $100M, providing a good  set of opportunity segments.

Having lived in Korea and  Hong Kong from the early 1980s through the mid-1990s and watching the Seven Tiger markets rise from bit players to important gears in the global IT supply chain, this doesn't really come as a surprise - however the rapidity and thorough break away toward private property and commercial economy  that China has managed, exceeds even the early predictions and forecasts.

The overwhelming reason for using Managed Services in China across all segments was Cost Control. This was followed by the need to Focus on the Core Business which is very difficult for SMBs with limited skilled resources, even in a country like China where hiring a new FTE to support basic IT infrastructure is relatively inexpensive as compared to many other countries.

 

The third most important reason was to free up the IT staff so they can add other types of value to the organization; helping to move IT from a Cost to a Profit Center.

 



 

Techaisle's SMB managed services adoption and trends data and analysis is available as individual country reports for US, UK, China, India, Brazil, Germany, Australia.

 



Davis Blair
Techaisle
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