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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.

Cisco partner program – customer experience and SMB segment take spotlight

Cisco Partner Summit, Nov 4-7, Las Vegas, was a whirlwind of interlocking, interdependent, important set of announcements to guide and assist channel partners to transform, own their competitive edge and target an elusive yet huge small and midmarket opportunity. The genesis of a transformed partner is the idea of relentless focus on Customer Lifecycle and begins with rebranding to Cisco Customer Experience (CX) Success Portfolio. Oliver Tuszik, Senior VP, Global Partner Organization is committed to developing a partner program that delivers customer success. Under the leadership of Maria Martinez, Cisco has thought through the channel enablement levers – customer content and assets, digital tools, co-marketing, co-selling and incentives at each “mile-marker” along the entire “race-track” aka, customer life-cycle.

Naturally, Cisco is expecting and forecasting many upsides for its channel partners including and not limited to 15% increase in revenue because of bigger deals and new deals, 20% increase in professional services that are fixed-price / right-sized deals and 5%-10% increase in HW pull-through. Partners who embrace the CX Lifecycle can hope to double their business in 3-5 years.

It is a very ambitious initiative. Out of the 60,000 Cisco partners, a majority may not have the skills and staffing to follow-through and pull it off. Cisco is not naïve. To some extent Cisco is relying on its distributors for enablement of the tier 2 partners. It is no doubt a touch ask and the onus will lie on the partners to make themselves heard, align and participate. But distributors can play an important role in driving tier 2 partners to develop CX practices. To make that a reality, Cisco is making investments in the foundation for partner lifecycle services. Cisco has developed a framework, or model, and is providing tools and resources to help partners monetize customer success and how to organize and operate their businesses for sustained success.

Cisco launched CX Certification and Specialization to help partners develop the talent needed to support customer success and to help them differentiate their business. Cisco is providing role-based training so that partners can ingrain customer success in their organization and deliver lifecycle services at every step of the customer journey.

Cisco is a partner-driven organization. Revenue through partners was 85% in 2019 as compared to only 38% in 1996. It is a major shift with a steady 6% average CAGR over the last 13 years.

The full Techaisle Take report with graphs and charts can be downloaded here

Recap of announcements

Here is my recap of the announcements that I have grouped into five areas.

Commitment
1. Customer success is #1 target
2. Partners remain default GTM for the entire lifecycle
3. Align Cisco internal teams
4. Want and support all partners

Requires increase SW content in portfolio, cultures and teams’ alignment, design programs to increase profitability.

New opportunities
1. Platform-Enabled (Programmability + DevNet)
2. New Buying Centers (Segmentation & Sales Plays)
3. Customer Success (Lifecycle & Recurring Revenue)
4. Multi-domain architecture

Reimagine customer applications, secure data, transform their infrastructure, empower teams

Distribution
1. 2T growth engine -Distis to spend time, energy on tier 2 partners
2. SMB execution – scale, touch small and midsized firms
3. Simplification & scale to drive operational excellence
4. CX lifecycle - contribute to renewal strategy

Disti business ranges from 30% - 40%; 2/3rd of $20B is from VAR, Tier 2

Customer Lifecycle
1. Lifecycle Advantage
2. Joint engagements & digital renewals
3. Collaborative intelligence
4. Refreshed re-branded portfolio

Invest US$50m in assets and programs in last 1 year. Expectation is that partners can make up to $50K incentives on customer lifecycle

Partner Marketing
1. Marketing Velocity Program
2. Partner marketing velocity central
3. Marketing Velocity Activate
4. Portfolio Explorer

10,000 partners are using marketing velocity central and virtual demand center - moving away from leads to qualified leads

One of the big announcements of the week was a renewed focus on the SMB segment with purpose-built products supported by marketing programs.

Techaisle’s latest research forecast shows that in 2021:

- WW SMB IT spend will be US$738 B (excluding telecom services)
- WW SMB Cloud spend will be US$156 B (excluding telecom services)
- WW SMB Managed Services spend will be US$65 B (excluding telecom services)

It is too huge an opportunity for Cisco to not be a major player. Cisco therefore announced two key initiatives:

  1. Cisco Designed for Business: purpose-built and curated products for small businesses. For example, Meraki Go (zero touch deployment for indoor and outdoor WiFi access points, security gateway & switch), Catalyst 1000 series switch. Cisco’s collaboration solutions WebEx and newly announced WebEx Desk Pro built for all businesses of any size is suitable for small businesses also. I am delighted that Cisco has formalized and is operationalizing its stake in the market. Cisco Deigned for Business is not only a concerted effort to appeal to the small business segment but also an announcement to its smaller resellers and distributors its seriousness in addressing the needs of small businesses by offering purpose-built product solutions. However, I caution Cisco not to be completely swept away in its “race track” customer lifecycle journey with respect to small businesses. Cisco will derive better benefits by connecting its Designed for Business with SMB business outcomes.
  2. Ignite the Midmarket: with upfront margin and good discounts, bonus for sales growth, simplified deal registration, deal protection, sales playbooks that provide value propositions, multi domain reference architectures, CX customer journeys and integrated industry use cases with step by step process

Techaisle Take

  • Cisco has the right strategy to enable, empower and transform its channel partners
  • Cisco’s focus on customer lifecycle along with its partners can accelerate their customer’s path to success at every stage of the lifecycle to deliver their business outcomes faster
  • Small businesses, specifically midsized firms are the battleground for the next decade and Cisco has announced its intent at the right time supported by an effective plan and program
  • Two problem areas have been overlooked – time and resource allocation by Cisco partners and vendor partnerships as compared to overall channel partner community
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ThinkPad X1 Carbon – a modern laptop that embraces tradition and defies description

I first used a ThinkPad in 1994 when I was with IDC in Hong Kong and had immediately taken a liking to the distinct red TrackPoint, color and feel of the laptop. I even had a docking station. It served me extremely well during my numerous overseas trips. In 1995, I switched to ThinkPad 701 with the butterfly keyboard. And when I accidentally placed my luggage on the laptop the shattered screen devasted me. I continued to use a ThinkPad till the time I joined Gartner which gave me a non-ThinkPad laptop. In my subsequent jobs I usually requested and received a ThinkPad from my workplaces.

Slightly more than a decade ago when I founded Techaisle I bought a Sony Vaio. It was a big mistake. Within a few months I switched to a ThinkPad Carbon. Why this obsession with ThinkPad? Quality, reliability, elegance.

Since early October I have been using Lenovo’s latest 7th Gen ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The minute I unboxed and picked-up the ThinkPad I realized I was holding a classic yet modern design. Everything from the sharply defined etched grey-red X1 logo on the chassis cover to the rubbery plastic carbon fiber weave with a textured pattern defies description. It is incredibly light, at 2.4 pounds and combined with a thin design at 0.58 inches (14.95mm) with no visible taper gives my shoulder-back combo a much-needed respite. I have found myself frequently using the leather ThinkPad X1 Ultra Sleeve (which delivers a premium feel to the X1 Carbon experience) without the need to carry a backpack when I am within a conference venue. The keyboard travel, although reduced to 1.5mm (from 1.7mm in previous models), to accommodate redefined thinness still provides familiar comfort and feedback for which ThinkPads are known for. The switched placement of Ctrl and Fn keys, as compared to most other keyboards and laptops, does throw me off.

The model that I am using is fully-configured with 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD, Intel core i7-8665U CPU 1.90GHz and UHD Graphics 620 with 3840 X 2160 display HDR400 with 500 nits brightness. Lenovo promises 18 hours of battery life for a lower resolution screen but the 4K screen that I am using obviously drains battery fast. Fortunately, Lenovo’s RapidCharge technology charges the X1 Carbon up to 80% within an hour. Lenovo’s “eye care” mode reduces blue light on the screen. Lenovo also has a PrivacyGuard but is not available for 4K screens. The screen does hinge 180 degrees to sit flat on a desk but I have never really found the need to use the capability.

A key evaluation criterion for me is a laptop’s ability to contribute and enhance productivity. The screen resolution enhances the experience for sifting through huge spreadsheets of analytical information, scrolling through rows of survey data, creating data-rich PowerPoint slides, reviewing infographics and working on Power BI dashboards. When I connect the ThinkPad to an external display (Dell UltraSharp 27 Monitor - U2719D) through Lenovo Thunderbolt™ 3 Dock, the productivity and experience are amplified.

thinkpad x1 carbon

ThinkVision M14 (sold separately) is a mobile display for on-the-go productivity. I usually bring it along with me. It easily connects through USB-C, provides a tremendous utility when working on my data spreadsheets and PowerPoints on the road. The ThinkVision M14 is only 0.4mm think and weighs next to nothing and easily slides into already crammed backpack space. And yes, I have also used ThinkVision M14 with a Dell XPS 13 and Dell Latitude 7390 2in1. Even my son has used it for his work and games and brought it with him during his travels.

I may be one of the few who still use the TrackPoint. Right above the touchpad are three mouse buttons to be used in conjunction with the TrackPoint which allow me to fully rest my fingers on the laptop itself without having to repeatedly lift my palms. Although I must say I miss the touchscreen in my ThinkPad X1 Carbon configuration (4K does not have touchscreen).

Lenovo Vantage, an app that keeps the device up and running and allows for custom settings, has grown in stature and capabilities substantially in the last one year. I have enabled WiFi security, Intelligent cooling with Quiet mode, battery charge threshold to prolong battery life and always-on USB to charge even when the computer is in sleep mode or off. To turn on WiFi security I had to enable location tracking, there seems to be no way around it. So far, it has worked well despite some occasional false notifications. The ThinkPad Carbon X1 is quiet and I rarely hear the fans spinning. I am the type of person when my iPhone battery drops to 70 percent, I look for an outlet to charge. Hence, enabling always-on USB has helped me keep my devices (iPhone, AirPods Pro, Bose headphones, Ultraportable Bluetooth speaker, backup power adapters and others) connected and charged. There are more than enough ports - 2 x USB-C, 2 x USB-A and 1 x HDMI - for my obsessive-compulsive need to keep all devices charged and connected.

Needless to say, collaboration is a key aspect of any work, especially in my job profile where most collaboration is video-enabled. Microsoft Teams, WebEx, Zoom, Hangouts and Go-to-meeting are most used. When I am not using headphones or portable Bluetooth speakers for conference calls, the 4 x 360-degree far-field microphones are useful. Nobody has complained to me so far about audio quality. The webcam has had no issues and the included camera shutter is a much-needed bonus as long as I remember to slide open or close.

I must confess that I have not setup Windows Hello - neither fingerprint nor facial recognition.

It is a mistake to compare ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7 with a MacBook. Instead, it should be compared and contrasted with Dell Latitude 7400. But comparison is not the objective of my review. Both are well-positioned and have their defined target market segments. It is however important to note that PC is where work gets done. It is still the centerpiece of business productivity and buying a new laptop is likely to have a more significant impact on productivity than any other technology. Modern PCs deliver more than an incremental improvement in performance and features. ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a modern business laptop that embraces tradition and after so many years still defies description.

 

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Cybersecurity - SMBs are maneuvering around the edges of flame

Techaisle’s SMB and Midmarket security solutions adoption research shows that although security is a top IT priority for 85% of SMBs, cybersecurity is still not the most pressing security issue for 80% of SMBs. These SMB firms maybe maneuvering around the edges of cybersecurity flame as 19% of small businesses and 28% of midmarket firms believe that they have established best practices to control cyber-attacks. 31% of SMBs report that they are very confident of recovering from a cybersecurity incident and another 20% say the recovery is dependent upon the type of incidence. Is it really the case that the security-confident SMBs have taken all necessary steps to safeguard data, user and environment? Answer lies in the next set of data points. Only 8% of small businesses and 24% of midmarket firms have tested their responses to breaches or security incidents to ensure that their protocols will be effective in a crisis situation. Less than 10% of SMBs are covered by cyber-insurance and only 5% are considering cyber-insurance.

 techaisle smb midmarket cyber attack priority

SMBs that build effective, responsive security frameworks will be positioned to capitalize on new technologies and on the new efficiencies that they enable. There is no denying that the threats that IT security frameworks address are becoming both more pernicious and a greater threat to the success of IT-dependent businesses – which is to say, nearly all businesses.

In the Techaisle survey, respondents were asked “– what would be the impact on your organization if there was a security/data breach of corporate information?” Responses indicate that the damage would be widespread and substantial. As the chart below demonstrates, the most severe consequence of a breach would be damage to customer privacy and trust, but there would also be damage to corporate reputations and profitability, difficulty in meeting regulatory requirements, and personal reputation damage for both business and IT professionals within the firm.

techaisle smb midmarket impact security breach

The NIST framework does a good job of describing a business’s approach to cyber security, but it doesn’t actually address the approaches used by ‘bad actors’ to attack data and users. To understand how attackers work (and might be stopped), IT security professionals often turn to the cyber (or intrusion) kill chain. This seven-stage view of an attacker’s process, developed by Lockheed Martin in 2011, helps technical leads to align security technology and processes against an attacker’s progressive objectives.

techaisle smb midmarket cyber attacker process
There are many variants on the diagram. Some include responses to the intrusion kill chain, urging businesses to “detect, deny, disrupt, degrade, deceive and destroy” attackers and their malware. Others highlight the key technologies and technology processes used to support these responses: for example, security professionals combating intruders at the reconnaissance stage might use web analytics to detect an intruder’s activities, and then firewall technology to deny access to corporate systems. The specific details vary from scenario to scenario, and evolve over time. What is constant, though, is the need for technically-adept security professionals to invest in capable technologies, to integrate these systems with each other, to develop processes that connect effectively with threats and technology-based ‘shields’, and to align these systems and processes with management’s corporate objectives.

It isn’t an exaggeration to state that in today’s business world, IT infrastructure is business critical infrastructure. SMBs are heavily invested in IT, with IT-dependent processes throughout their operations. This ubiquitous dependence on technology means that systems failure will reverberate throughout all of a company’s daily operations. There is no way to disaster-proof against IT failure with insurance; appropriate investment in IT security processes, technologies and management strategies is the only way to capitalize on the productivity benefits of IT without creating exposure to organizational paralysis in the event of a malware invasion, a hacker attack or an employee’s negligence or malfeasance.

The lack of understanding of a threat associated with a widely-used cloud platform on one hand (and likely, additional confusion with respect to security issues associated with other technologies), and the lack of IT staff resources available to address security concerns on the other, produces a clear conclusion: SMBs need suppliers to step up to delivery of secure IT environments and prevent cyber-attacks.

In many cases, these suppliers will be the mainstream channel partners who supply the SMB’s technology, who act as the IT management presence within the SMB’s business. In other cases, including in many midmarket environments, the source of security products and services will be specialized managed security providers who focus tightly on operating SOCs and protecting client environments. In some scenarios, firms will ‘land’ by entering a client account from one of these positions, and then ‘expand’ to serve a wider range of IT supply needs – crowding out competitors who can’t address the risk and compliance issues that are central to the CEO’s mandate.

Related research

US SMB and Midmarket Security adoption trends

Europe SMB and Midmarket Security adoption trends

Asia/Pacific SMB and Midmarket Security adoption trends

Latin America SMB and Midmarket Security adoption trends

 

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32 percent of SMB business activities expected to be digitized by 2021 – 2X from 2017

Techaisle research into SMB approaches to digitalization shows a great belief in organizational commitment to digitalization strategies. 17% of small businesses and 31% of midmarket firms, down from more than 40% two years ago, believe that they are “holistic” with respect to digital transformation – that within their firms, the Internet and digital technologies impact every aspect of the business and are at the core of organizational strategy. Another large proportion of the SMB population – 32% of small businesses, 45% of midmarket firms – report that their organizations are best categorized as “inclusive,” seeing digital as important to the business, but as a relatively minor factor in strategic planning, and not having organization-wide impact. Lesser proportions of both populations see themselves as ‘siloed’ with respect to digital initiatives, but within 19% of small businesses, up from 5% in 2017, digital is not seen as core to their operations.

techaisle smb digital transformation status
Pace of digital business adoption within SMBs

To add context to the previous data set, figure below shows how rapid the take-up of digital business within the SMB community has been and is expected to be over the next two years. Overall, SMBs expect 32% of business activities to be digitized by 2021, which will be up from 17% in 2017, nearly double. On average, roughly a quarter of small business and midmarket companies’ operational processes are digitized today: this represents a 51% increase (from 16%) within small business and a 47% (from 18%) increase within midmarket firms over the past two years, with a further 24%-28% increase (to nearly one-third of all processes) expected by the end of 2021. Suppliers selling into the SMB market with a digitalization position/messaging strategy should find a large number of firms looking to accelerate digital business initiatives.

techaisle smb digital transformation pace of digital business adoption

Constraints to SMB digital strategies

A follow-on question about inhibitors found that 30% of SMBs “lack the skills” to embrace digital business practices; nearly as many (28%, rising to 36% in small business) cite staff or management reluctance to change current practices as a barrier to digital business adoption, and substantial proportions of the SMB community also point to “lack of investment capital/budget” (26%, and again, higher within small business) a risk averse corporate culture (24%) and inadequate installed technology (23%). In all, seven different constraints were cited by at least 20% of SMB respondents – highlighting the fact that SMBs face numerous challenges to development and adoption of effective digital business strategies.

Related SMB survey research reports:

US SMB & Midmarket Digitalization Trends

US Midmarket Digital Transformation Trends

US SMB & Midmarket SaaS Adoption Trends

Europe SMB & Midmarket SaaS Adoption Trends 

Asia/Pacific SMB & Midmarket SaaS Adoption Trends

Latin America SMB & Midmarket SaaS Adoption Trends

White papers

Prologue and Epilogue of Digitalization in SMB Market

Digital Transformation for the Modern Midmarket: Red Paper

Future of Work - Interwork: the next step in connected businesses

Digital Transformation & the Future of Reseller Channel

 

 

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