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Cisco to open up WebEx for the channel

Networking giant announces purpose-build UC boxes for SMB

New Orleans, La. – Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO) is taking WebEx where it has never gone before. At the Cisco Partner Summit, held here, Cisco announced a partner-led model for its WebEx Meeting Center for small and mid size customers.

Before this announcement, WebEx, an online environment for sharing applications and documents, was part of a sales referral model. Under this model, resellers could only recommend the product and have Cisco sell it directly to customer. Cisco will now give the channel the capability to resell WebEx.

According to Barry O’Sullivan, senior vice president of voice technology group, WebEx already has 50 per cent marketshare and the channel partners can do bundles that are easy to install, manage and configure. O’Sullivan added that these bundles are complete solutions purposely build for SMBs with employee bases starting at two up to 1,000. The margin potential for WebEx is 21 per cent and that revenue will come year-after-year on renewals.

Paul Edwards, market analyst for SMB and channels for IDC Canada, said that Cisco finally giving solution providers the ability to resell WebEx will help them start to get more attention in the SMB market. Earlier in the conference, Keith Goodwin, the worldwide partner organization lead and Cisco worldwide channel chief Edison Peres admitted Cisco was not getting its fair share of the lucrative SMB market.

“I think Cisco will get more traction with channel partners because of WebEx,” Edwards said.

As part of the WebEx announcement, Andrew Sage, vice president of worldwide small business sales for Cisco, announced a new partner sales support plan called Cisco Partner Advisor. One of the criticisms of Cisco’s SMB direction is that smaller solution providers find dealing with the company and its channel program too complex. Cisco Partner Advisor attempts to address this concern by providing personalized sales support either by phone or Web chat. Partner Advisor will be a global effort in 17 languages and is capably of supporting 24,000 channel partners most of which will be in the SMB Select program. Part of the service will be helping channel partners navigate through Cisco’s channel program, Sage said.

“We have been told that partners want to talk to a real person so that that person owns the solution for them. We are going to do that with Partner Advisor, which is a live support service. At the end of the day we are standing behind our partners and give them an opportunity to reach a live person when they need it,” Sage said.

Edwards said that Partner Advisor looks to have addresses to smaller VAR concerns. “At least it will give them assistance to ramp up quicker with Cisco technology and the many channel program elements. It has a lot of benefits and it’s a good start for them. They need to draw in more smaller solution providers who do not get a lot of attention. And, for partners they can now be proactive and reactive with Partner Advisor and be able to reach out to Cisco with there issues,” he said.

Cisco also released a Unified Communications 300 Series for small business. UC 300 has been designed for companies with two to 24 users with collaboration, networking and voice features. It also has built-in data and wireless support as well as voicemail and automated attendant. Cisco is also submitting UC 300 to Cisco Capital, its financing arm and offering a three-year zero per cent deal for partners and customers, Sage added.

Jason Waldrop, CEO of solution provider CWPS said that small business customers are “allergic to in-house IT people” and he sees these business owners will look at UC 300 as a product that can break down barriers for them.

Edwards, however, sees the UC 300 Series and the mid-market version the UC 3000 playing well in the carrier space. “Bell can bundle it with their services and get more traction. Not to say that smaller VARs can’t do it, but in Canada UC regardless of the word is not united and encompasses so many different components,” he added.

Bell Canada, in fact, about 30 minutes after Cisco’s UC 300 announcement on Wednesday issued a press release saying they were committed to UC 300 line for its SMB customers as it has all the features, functionality and affordability the customer is demanding.

Cisco’s UC 300 Series is priced at $995, while the UC 3000 will cost $12,400 for 100 users. That product will be released in the second quarter of 2011.