Cisco Engineers and Cisco Consultants delivering Cisco Support for Cisco Installations, Configurations and Upgrades

Complexity of networks and shortage of Cisco specialist engineers is an opportunity for nimble firms looking to beat larger rivals

In most ways, the telecommunications revolution of the last few decades has made the world a much smaller place – but not necessarily for those who work in the industry.

Where before being based on an offshore platform or a remote research station was an isolating experience that removed workers from normal life for weeks or months on end, now they can do their Christmas shopping between shifts. And a job that may once have involved travelling for days at a time to collect research or meet colleagues can now be done without leaving the sofa at home.

But many aspects of telecoms and ICT have got more complicated, and some jobs still need to be done in person. Ironically, one of those jobs is often setting up the very systems that make the highly connected, no-need-to-get-off-the-couch world possible. And this can present real difficulties for firms who don’t have the scale to make engineers available across wide geographical areas.

British Telecom Engineers

Back in the early 1980s, all things telecom in the UK were run by one firm, BT – or British Telecom as it called itself back then. Its privatisation and subsequent industry deregulation gradually opened up a vast and rapidly growing market to hundreds of ambitious smaller players, even though the old state monopoly remained a domineering presence. Many thrived on sub-contracts from BT itself, while another huge industry grew up around the ICT infrastructure being built by every sector of the economy to take advantage of the communications revolution.

But whereas there was once always a BT engineer almost on every street corner, these smaller firms face the difficulty of finding suitable support staff to reach all geographies to which they are committed. For UK firms playing a leading role installing technology for global industries such as oil and gas, finance or law, this can mean having to reach dozens of countries in order to fulfil a contract.

At the same time, the technology itself has also got more complicated, and aspects have become very specialised, meaning that suitable skills can be very thin on the ground. For Cisco engineers, for example, the highest CCIE level of specialist can include no more than a couple of hundred certified engineers in each category, spread across the world.

Shortage of Cisco Security Specialist Engineers

Recent reports have focused on a shortage of security specialists, and the six figure salaries that firms are having to pay to secure their services. Undoubtedly, rising awareness of the threat from cyber crime means that security experts are in huge demand, and the crisis is particularly acute. But in fact some of the other top disciplines are also experiencing rocketing demand, such is the key nature of Cisco networks to most industries these days.

Whether you are looking for a CCIE specialist in Security, Wireless, or Routing and Switching, you will find it hard to get their attention, and not just because they are usually engrossed in learning more about these fascinating technologies. Should a company wish to directly employ an expert in each of half a dozen specialities, its IT budget will swell by more than half a million pounds a year.

This is where outsourcing comes into its own, as even relatively small firms are able to offer a comprehensive service to their clients thanks to our full UK coverage of Cisco engineers, and our international Cisco resource.

Outsourcing Specialist Cisco Services

The general benefits to business of outsourcing specialist services are well documented /LINK, and naturally these apply for network engineers too. You will reduce risk, control capital costs and be free to concentrate on your core business. But the nature of a white label service goes further and gives even greater advantages.

Any client firm can confidently claim that it can get a specialist engineer to any part of the UK, at any time of day or night, every day of the year. This allows them to bid on a range of contracts that would otherwise be prohibitive, potentially undercutting and out-competing larger rivals that employ a smaller range of Cisco-certified staff in-house. The ultimate client is also a winner, benefiting from a high quality of service – and of course they need never know that engineers were sub-contracted in.

Cisco Field Engineers, the boots on the ground from CCNA-CCIE level from 4CornerNetworks

Cisco Field Engineers

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Monitoring, managing and maintaining IT Networks has evolved in recent years with innovations in network management tools, cloud storage and Software Defined Networking. Solar Winds seems to be the network management tool of choice and the recent $67Billion Dell-EMC acquisition shows the market focus on cloud storage is altering the landscape for IT Networks. Such advancements in methodology and technology has led to the demise of in-house Field Engineering teams. MSP’s, Cisco Channel Partners and Telecommunications & ICT Providers have all reduced their focus and expenditure on their in-house Cisco Field Service capabilities.

However not all network upgrades and faults can be rectified remotely. Network management tools are limited to identifying bottlenecks, firmware upgrades and faults, but at some point your clients will need the expert help of Cisco Field Engineers. Until network management tools or SDN can develop Artificial Intelligence, grow legs and hands armed with screwdrivers to rack and stack, people need people to solve network issues.

Expansion of Capabilities

Austerity and cost-cutting are best of friends and many Enterprise companies and SME’s have not only reduced their Field Engineering Services but their NOC’s and Technical teams too. IT Networks require Cisco Engineers with specialist skills in Security, Wireless and Collaboration, to name but a few. Employing such a vast range of specialist Cisco Engineers may no longer be cost-effective, but the demand for boots on the ground remains buoyant. If the end client is situated in a challenging postcode, remote location and/or requires a specialist Cisco Engineering track, you can choose to send your own in-house Engineer half way across the world, or you can work in partnership with a reputable supplier of Cisco Field Engineering Services.

Strategic partnerships between MSP’s, Channel Partners and Telecomms providers must be complimented by external providers of Cisco Field Engineering Services. The newest advancements in methodologies and technologies may reduce the demand for Cisco Field Engineering Services, but it will NEVER make them obsolete.

Integration

Forming a strategic partnership requires an alignment of capabilities, complementary services and, most importantly, sharing knowledge. You could chose to form a simple client/customer relationship, but the benefits of integrating organisations help to deliver market-leading service delivery and customer service.

When an MSP, Cisco Partner or Telecomms/ICT provider employ the services of an external Cisco Field Support company, those two companies need to deliver services as one entity. Both organisations need to integrate departments, processes and technology. Departments integrate when Project Managers, Account Managers, Operations Co-ordinators and Cisco Field Engineering Teams align objectives and targets. Define duties, roles and responsibilities and always assign a designated contact and point of escalation within each organisation. Frequent and open communications is a tangible asset and must not be underestimated or undervalued.

When ICT/Telecommunications providers, MSP’s and Cisco Partners reduce their in-house Cisco Field Engineering Team, a gap in the market opens up for providers of Cisco Field Support. Apply the same principal to providers of Cisco Field Engineers, they cannot gain access to such lucrative clients on a mass scale. The truth is that neither company can achieve growth, amass industry & operational knowledge & skills or service the end client without the help of one another.

Competitors Don’t Mean War: The Value of Strategic Partnerships

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In the IT channel, Strategic Partnerships are commonplace, most notably with the recent collaboration between the two technology giants, Cisco and Apple. The Apple & Cisco partnership is a perfect marriage, Apple gain access to the Enterprise market, whilst Cisco benefit from iOS and facilitate Apple’s entry into the Enterprise arena. But, what exactly is a Strategic Partnership?

Price Waterhouse Cooper define a Strategic Partnership as:

“A strategic partnership involves some shape of formal agreement between two or more parties that have agreed to share finance, skills, information and/or other resources in the pursuit of common goals.”

Sharing

Before a Strategic Partnership has been formalised, firstly ensure that all parties share the same expectations of the outcome of such partnerships. Start by clearly defining shared business objectives, you both might want to achieve A or B, but can you achieve them together? Strategic Partnerships are generally triggered by the existence of shared objectives. For example a Managed Services Provider or Cisco Channel Partner may need Cisco Technical Resources worldwide due to a lack of in-house specialist Cisco Network Engineers. Therefore there exists an implied shared objective, prior to a formalised agreement being signed.

As highlighted in the PwC definition, a successful Strategic Partnership can only be achieved by sharing resources, finance, information and skills. Each company will have a unique strength which the other lacks, therefore combining capabilities allows both partners to access new markets, increase product/service offerings, increase revenues and embark on a mutually beneficial knowledge sharing relationship. Strategic Partnerships are a viable alternative to traditional growth strategies including organic growth, angel investors and borrowing.

Culture & Values

A 2013 CIPD survey showed that 60-70% of Strategic Partnerships fail, often triggered by a mismatch in culture and company values. The lesson learned from this statistic is to choose your partners based on common shared values and company culture. If your company has an aggressive sales culture who earn their competitive advantage via low prices, then your ideal partner isn’t a company who values quality of service over price.

Achieving a cultural fit where both parties share values, should not be underestimated. A written agreement will specify relevant KPI’s including volume of sales, quality of service and conflict management. However, in the blink of an eye, the days and months of negotiations can be destroyed with a cultural faux pas. Obvious cultural differences occur when partnering with an international partner in body language, linguistics and beliefs. However, more subtle factors like equality, gender balance and employee & stakeholder engagement can contribute to a failed or successful Strategic Partnership.

Ease of Integration

After agreeing on shared objectives, resources and culture, integration is the next step before the partnership is good to go. The theory of how companies form a partnership is the easy part, now it’s time to fit the final pieces together.

Integration is the point where 2 (or more) companies in a Strategic Partnership become one entity. What type of information is shared between parties? What processes should be implemented to directly deal with joint customers? What systems are implemented to process enquiries, sales and communications?

When a Cisco Channel Partner or ICT Provider, needs to book a Cisco Network Engineer from a Cisco Professional Services partner onto a client site, there needs to be a unified and coherent system used by both parties. A scope of work will be agreed along with timescales, prices and quality standards. Mapping systems would be in place so all partners can identify where Network Engineers are working and how and when to book the next available one: all contributing to a seamless synergy between Strategic Partners.

Have you experienced a Strategic Partnership where only 1 party truly benefits? Have you been involved in a Partnership where you value quality of service but your partner values low price more? Tell us your horror and success stories 🙂

Experts Add Value, Amateurs Add Costs – The Value of Hiring Cisco Network Experts

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Many VAR’s, Channel Partners and MSP’s are responsible for allocating the correct technical resource to monitor and manage their client’s IT Networks. Do they hire an external Cisco Network Engineer or allocate an in-house generalist IT Administrator?

IT Experts and Network experts have distinct specialisms and require the application of a significantly unique set of skills. IT Administrators tend to a multitude of IT duties ranging from desktop support to software installation & configuration. Cisco Network Engineers on the other hand are more specialised with typical duties ranging from VPN tunnelling to intricate network designs.

Organisations can be reluctant to hiring external experts as they prefer to assign generalist in-house IT staff to attempt complex networking tasks, often to the detriment to the end client.

Limited Internal Resources

Ask an IT/Systems Administrator for almost any VAR, MSP or Channel Partner what their duties are, and their answer will be “Everything!” They need to monitor & fix, software & hardware, back up data, enhance performance, security, storage and the list goes on. Internal IT & Engineering Departments are generally lacking in specific IT specialist functions. It would sink many businesses to the bottom of the ocean if they had experts in Cisco, Juniper, F5, Microsoft, Dell and Citrix who all need regular work. Not only do you need vendor specialists, you also need to have them situated in every single country where your clients are located.

It is therefore imperative to realise the limitations of the technical resources you have at your disposal in-house. You can hire an external expert in Cisco Networks or you can muddle along with what you have.

The Problem with Muddling Along

Tux, the Linux Mascot trying to put a square peg in a round hole

Round pegs fit into square pegs no problem, but they don’t stay there as the wrong tool has been used for the job. Holding your extremely expensive network together with sticky tape and a few short term fixes may solve an immediate problem, but it will simply add to the magnitude of problems brewing underneath those sub-standard fixes.

Systems administrators or IT generalists may be able to maintain and manage basic network functions, but complex configurations and designs MUST be left to the experts. If you need a CCNP Wireless, then hire one, if you need a CCIE Security, hire one. Prices from one Cisco Engineer to another varies depending on individual skill sets and market experience, where that experience should not be underestimated or undervalued. Technical couriers are often hired by organisations instead of paying the market price for a CCNA Engineer in an effort to minimise the cost of technical resourcing.

Muddling along might save you a penny or two in the short-term, but if I was your client, I certainly wouldn’t be satisfied that my critical business problems are solved with inferior solutions. Clients pay a premium price to have their networks maintained and managed, subsequently only premium solutions will suffice.

Quality of Service

Cisco certifications are highly regarded by Enterprise organisations, VAR’s, MSP’s & Channel Resellers, yet lower prices too often take precedence over quality of service. Cisco hardware is the backbone of all networks in almost every Enterprise organisation, which requires the application of Cisco best practises at all times to guarantee quality and continuity of service.

Here I’ll be bold and hail Cisco Certified Engineers as the best the market has to offer, no other certification comes close. When a CCNA or CCIE Engineer is assigned to complete a specific Network task there is no other IT Expert or Technician more qualified, experienced or skilled to successfully do so: round pegs for round holes.

By allocating anything other than a Cisco Certified Engineer to tackle a Cisco Network task is prioritising price over quality of service delivered. Cisco experts may be more expensive than the cheaper in-house generalist option, but if you think experts are expensive, wait and see how much amateurs cost you.

Harnessing a productive working environment at 4CornerNetworks, experts in Cisco Support

Want Happy Customers & Staff? Join the Culture Club

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Sell more and sell more now! Do as I TELL you. Listen when I bark! – We’ve all had horrid bosses like this, imparting their aggressive nature and sell-at-all-costs attitude which manifests into a toxic culture of bullying, aggression and arrogance. Working in an environment with a poisonous culture negatively impacts productivity, staff morale and business operations. On the other hand, focus on creating a positive culture which is people-centric and your business can build a substantial competitive advantage over market rivals.

Training & Development

In the year 2015 Technology is advancing at a rapid pace, smartphones & smartwatches, bigger memories, and bigger processors, faster machinery – none of which have any importance or relevance to your company culture and therefore highlighting that your employees are your most valuable asset.

Dedication to learning is an essential element in any successful company culture. Learning needs to be a continuous company process encouraging all staff members to embark on a quest for knowledge. Gathering professional qualifications is par for the course, but the value of soft skills shouldn’t be underestimated. Communications skills, work ethic, transferable skills and leadership qualities can all be nurtured from personal development training both in-house and externally. It is necessary to create a training and development plan with formalised processes by following the diagram below:

 

Training and development plan. 1 Identify and formalise Business Skills Shortages. 2: Identify Employee Skills Shortages. 3: Select Qualifications, Training Courses and Training Plans. 4: Book, Attend and Complete Qualification or Training. 5: Gather Feedback From Employees, Then Repeat Cycle.

Flexibility & Trust

The last time I looked, all my colleagues could tie their own shoelaces, vote, earn a degree and passed the interview that got them their respective jobs – so why do some company cultures insist on babying their staff? – 2 minutes late and you’re reprimanded, wear a tie, ask for permission to make a cuppa, get in your cubicle and don’t get ideas above your station. When written down it seems ridiculous, but such antiquated cultures are commonplace. People daily dread getting up to go into their jobs, another groundhog day – if your staff think like this, then your culture needs addressing and quick!

Don’t make your staff fear for their jobs, create an environment whereby they have no fear and are free to take risks and make mistakes. Improvements can only be made by taking risks, challenging norms and pushing boundaries. Demonstrate trust in your staff, be flexible with breaks, start and finish times. If your employee perhaps has been working late, then allow them to come in late to recuperate and don’t try to squeeze every last morsel of productivity from them. Happy staff are productive staff. Grant your staff the freedom to make a cuppa as and when they please, start late or finish early occasionally, let them work from home, or check their phones for messages during company time. If your recruitment process was thorough enough and your company culture applies flexibility and trust, then you’ll successfully build a progressive culture with loyal and productive employees.

Company Values

A company with an ingrained culture is a living breathing entity, and like people, can have a unique personality. Employees and stakeholders need to be able to identify with who your company is and what you stand for. Create a vision, mission and values statement to support company values – words on a piece of paper mean nothing unless there is a clear and defined strategy to implement & follow. Once company values have been installed into your everyday working environment, your staff and stakeholders can begin to buy into the values and beliefs you promote. Creating company values which resonate with the beliefs of individual stakeholders imparts shared beliefs and shared efforts to achieve a common goal.

Competitive Advantage

Strategy guru, Michael Porter identifies 2 main types of competitive advantage, cost and differentiation. Gaining a competitive advantage through cost measures simply enters companies into an overcrowded race with competitors. Buying newer, faster machinery is easy, but you’ll always be part of that race to the bottom. Cut costs by swinging the axe, make employees work twice as hard to compensate for the axe-wielding, but humans burn out. The solution to creating a sustainable competitive advantage can only be achieved by delivering superior added value compared to your competitors.

Companies providing services rather than products can utilise their employees to help bring their services to market quicker than their competitors. Those employees can respond quicker to customer trends and demands by offering customised solutions not freely available amongst market rivals. Quality of service delivery must always be a priority over achieving the lowest price. When your company culture focuses on cheapness, cheaper costs, cheaper products then most likely your company culture is just as cheap. Implementing a superior quality of service comes from employees taking pride in their jobs, taking pride in satisfying their customers and pride in the company they work for. Try giving your staff no creative freedom, no trust, no flexibility and an obsession with cost cutting – do you think your employees are proud? If you want happy customers and stakeholders, join the culture club 🙂

Equality Street

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Can you imagine being a Female Network Engineer? Experiencing wolf whistles daily, earning far less than male counterparts and making the cups of tea – Well, sorry to disappoint but this simply isn’t true. Women can rack, stack and mount just like any other male Cisco Network Engineer and are generally treated just like any other Engineer. I wanted to cause a stir with this blog by highlighting the gulf between male and female Engineers, but despite some vocal opinion in social media circles, I found more equality than inequality.

An interview with Female Cisco Network Engineer Christine Bowman-Jones (CCNA R&S) was conducted to gain a deeper understanding of a day in the life of a female Cisco Network Engineer.

What or who was your inspiration to become a Network Engineer?

I was currently undertaking a PC maintenance course whilst working in a call centre. I have always enjoyed technology and decided a career change was needed. When the course was coming to the end, a lecturer – Mike Fitzgerald came into our class to give a talk on a foundation degree – Network Security Technologies. I found the talk captivating and the enthusiasm given by Mike was inspiring. I owe the path taken to Mike Fitzgerald, he was my true inspiration and gave me the knowledge and determination to succeed.

How many females did you have in your University/CCNA Classes?

When I first started my foundation degree there was one other female, however after a few weeks this female left the course, and then I became the sole female.

What skills/qualities do you think women need to become a Network Engineering Professional?

You need to work hard, the same as a male, you need to commit long hours to studying to learn your craft, you need determination as the path is not an easy one, however I would not say this is due to discrimination, although there is always that judgement in the background that you are a women initially.

Were there any groups or organisations to provide support for women in IT or women studying IT in the UK?

Not that I am aware of, however I never investigated this path.

Can you provide an example of when you’ve been treated differently to your male counterparts? If not, do you feel you’re treated as an equal by clients and fellow Cisco Network Engineers?

During my time at University I always felt like I was treated equally, in the workplace I rarely encounter other Cisco Network Engineers, however when I do I have never had an issue. I think you always get that initial 10 minutes whilst they get used to you being a female, however I really don’t see it as an issue.

When clients see a woman turning up on site to rack and mount, do you feel you’re being judged more than men, and why?

I have always enjoyed the surprised look by clients when a woman does turn up on site to rack and mount, and I don’t think women will ever escape that. I always get the offer of them carrying something for me etc., but I don’t see that as an issue, in fact quite enjoy it sometimes, however I never take them up on it.

Why do you think there are such small numbers of female Network Engineers or IT In general?

It can be an intimidating environment, and sometimes you do need a thick skin from the jokes. However once you gain that respect it doesn’t become an issue.

What would be your words of advice to young aspiring female Network Engineers?

I would say it will always be a male dominated environment and you have to be prepared for that. My advice is to be the best you can be, learn as much as possible, and know in yourself the abilities you have, and then you will achieve respect within the industry.

Starting your own business can be daunting, what gave you the confidence to pursue starting your own business?

I was working as a project manager with the threat of redundancy, not really undertaking a great deal of networking etc., the threat became real, and I thought to myself that I want to prove myself as an Engineer and had nothing to lose. I have never worked so hard in my life, however find it rewarding, and it’s that satisfaction that makes me carry on.

You’re currently CCNA R&S, what Cisco exams are next for you and why do you want to pursue this area in your career?

I am currently looking to complete my CCNP R&S, I have completed the routing exam and looking to undertake the switching exam shortly. I will look to become fully CCNP certified hopefully by the end of next year. I enjoy Cisco networking and get a great deal of satisfaction and enjoyment out of it, I always enjoy learning new skills and developing existing skills.

Your quality of service and onsite professionalism is an area we understand many end-clients take the time to compliment you on – explain why your quality of service is exceptional?

My company reputation is the most important part for me, I will endeavour to complete a job 100% to my ability, I will always go above and beyond for a client and ensure they are happy when I leave site. I am always eager to wow a client and treat them with respect, return work and future projects are imperative for the survival of any company.

Conclusion

Full equality between male and female Engineers doesn’t exist yet, and it may never be the utopian vision some people crave. As Christine testified to in her interview, she sometimes works in an “intimidating environment” which is “male dominated” and where women need to have a “thick skin from the jokes”, but most importantly Christine feels like she is always “treated equally” in her job.

Equality, anti-discrimination and HR legislation exist to prevent Engineers like Christine from enduring inequality, yet it still exists. Some women may be intimidated to enter into a traditionally “male dominated environment” but unless more women challenge this “norm” then the landscape will never change.

Be reponsive to customer needs and ensure successful delivery of cisco support & cisco engineers

Responsiveness – The Key to a Successful SME

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So many companies strive to achieve growth to increase profits, benefit from economies of scale or for simple vanity reasons. However, being a big company doesn’t always mean that the company is more successful, being an SME can be equally beneficial. The nature of larger companies dictate that a more regimented approach to business is applied with rules, policies, procedures, processes, departments and red tape all helping to slow down business operations. With less traffic to fight through, SME’s have the ability to be responsive to the needs & demands of the market place.

Customisation

The single greatest benefit to being a responsive company is the ability to truly customise your products/services to the needs of your customers. When a company deals with customer numbers in the hundreds or thousands, the only way to efficiently deliver communications is via automation. Letters to customers are automated, offers are automated and every facet of communication between the human customer and robotic company ensues. As a customer, just make sure that any request you may have can be categorised into a pre-defined algorithm with an automatically generated generic response.

In the year 2015, customers demand what they want, when they want it, how they want it and SME’s are best poised to respond to, and satisfy such demands. Telling your customers they need “the standard package” or “the budget level package” makes them feel as homogenised as the packages being offered to them.

Lack of Hierarchy & Structure

The composition of big companies comprises of dozens of departments each with their own agendas, protecting their own budgets and results. Each department have employees, supervisors, managers and senior management which creates layer upon layer of hierarchy and internal structure. Therefore when a customer makes a request for a customised service/product, or a lower level employee needs to escalate a complaint or request, that information needs to navigate its way up the company hierarchy and back down to the customer again. SME’s on the other hand having fewer layers, departmental agendas and fewer employees & managers with vested interests are able to respond more expeditiously. Customer trends fluctuate daily, competitors improve & evolve and technology impacts market trends meaning the speed of response can only be effectively executed by SME’s.

Quality vs Quantity

SME’s are in a blessed position whereby their primary objective is to generate a higher quality of customer rather than a greater quantity (although increasing volume over time by sustainable growth). Big businesses may be able to boast that they can scale operations to achieve economies of scale, but at this point customers now become “just a number” which lacks genuine customer service. The final price offered by SME’s and big business is almost identical, the SME benefits from having a flat structure and low operating costs, whilst the big company still needs to absorb higher operating costs.

The key to achieving a higher quality of customer means chasing a higher quantity of customers must always be a secondary objective. Excellence in delivering a high quality of service breeds customer loyalty and customer retention. If more companies focused on quality over quantity, then perhaps fewer people would be brand-agnostic, obsessed by price or seek substitute products. As an SME, your company is born with a responsive nature, grow and this trait begins to dwindle – just keep focused on achieving quality over quantity.

SME’s strive to achieve growth to become a big business – grow employees, grow assets, grow profits or grow to be admired. Achieving growth so often kills the flexible responsive nature of an SME and big companies struggle to be responsive – so how do we successfully merge the two? By doing just that, merge big and small to learn from one another – knowledge share. Ensure the SME learns how to scale operations and define processes and procedures, same goes for the larger companies, learn what makes SME’s so successful, adopt their approach to excellence in quality of service by being responsive– just don’t grow and kill customer service in the process.

We’d Love To Be A Cisco Partner But…?

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Cisco Systems Inc. is an awesome company to be affiliated with. Market leaders in Networking Equipment, thought leaders in the world of IT, innovators and disruptors – yet their partnership model may deter companies who’d otherwise be a perfect partnership match. If a company wishes to specialise in delivering Cisco Professional Services rather than Managed Services, Technology Solutions or the Networking Infrastructure – Then becoming a Cisco Partner may prove to be more restrictive than progressive.

 

Constricting Criteria

Cisco set strict criteria to prevent poor quality vendors being affiliated with the Cisco Brand, a commendable approach to ensure Brand consistency & quality of service. However in an era dominated by Technology, might it be feasible to consider that people and not technology may be at the heart of some business models? If a business places a greater emphasis on people (Professional Services) over technology (Managed Service Provider/ICT), then the Cisco partnership model just doesn’t fit.

For example if a company wishes to deliver Cisco Engineering resources in a number of regions, then that company MUST have at least 1 employee with a Cisco ID in each region they operate – If you want to offer Professional Services Internationally, be prepared to pay for employees you don’t need, but Cisco say you do. Some Professional Services companies operate in a variety of international regions, and do so successfully without the need to have an employee with a Cisco ID in each region. In fact employing someone with a Cisco ID in all the regions they operate may help to satisfy the Cisco partnership criteria, but would result in a tremendous increase in operating costs and may even turn a profitable company into a loss-making one. Cisco Engineers can be deployed from a remote location using a retainer or contractor model, so why the need to have a Cisco employee in each region?

Partners also need to have at least 1 specialisation linked to a Cisco product/solution – What if your specialisation isn’t related to a specific Cisco product or suite of products? Often Engineers are faced with a network comprising of HP Server Blades, Cisco Routers, Switches & Firewalls and F5 Load Balancers. Cisco’s rhetoric with partners is focused on providing solutions across the entire network infrastructure, but there’s often a need to have a multi-vendor approach to the network lifecycle. Offering solutions in Unified Communications & Collaboration, Wireless or Security is part of the business model for most IT Professional Services organisations, but if the solution offered is Certified Cisco Engineers, that’s not recognised – only hardware/software is a recognised solution, not people.

Hannah Breeze in a recent CRM article wrote that Cisco admitted their current partnership model & annual audits “Caused Partners a lot of hassle” and that the overwhelming consensus from existing Cisco partners asked Cisco to “Ease Up”. Enduring annual audits and submitting 10 customer satisfaction survey results twice annually soon starts to take a toll on your employees, time and capital.

 

You Don’t Need Tin To Win

Cisco Systems are market leaders in the provision of networking hardware, but not everyone wants or benefits from selling it. For a company specialising in Professional Services the lure of a 1-2% profit margin when selling hardware vs the profit margins available on deploying Engineers, making the decision to “bin the tin” is a no-brainer. Of course Cisco hardware is essential for the provision of Cisco Engineers, clients continuously demand the best networking hardware, and Cisco duly obliges. However for a specialist Professional Services Company, selling hardware is simply an exercise in generating revenue rather than profits – vanity over sanity.

 

Power to the People

Cisco Systems Inc. is renowned for their market leading position in the provision of networking equipment, their innovations with smart cities and the Internet of Everything – but the key strength of Cisco is their people. No other vendor offers qualifications held in such high-regard across international borders, everyone knows and values Engineers with a CCNA, CCNP or CCIE certification. Cisco Certified Engineers have an excellent understanding of multiple vendors, their equipment and the network infrastructure – all a result of the quality of training and examination needed to earn a Cisco Certification.

Regardless if you offer Professional Services, Managed Services or Networking Solutions, the essential ingredient is Cisco Engineers – the people. As an organisation Cisco Systems create their own industry – distributors selling hardware, colleges selling certifications and partners selling Finance & Services. Diversification and growth is achieved through careful acquisitions and Cisco is a darling of the NYSE – their plans for the future are solid. However a plan is useless without successful implementation and this is where Cisco excels. Achieving the vision of the future with the Internet of Everything, hardware needs to be installed and maintained, Consultants need to design networks and the Cisco wheels need to keep churning – There is no future without Cisco Engineers.

 

Sitting on the Fence

For organisations choosing to specialise in Professional Services, sitting on the fence may be the best strategy to adopt. Becoming a Cisco Partner may result in dangerous levels of exposure, too many employees, too much capital expenditure or being forced to adopt a precarious infrastructure that lacks the flexibility to respond to market demands. Therefore by electing to be a Cisco-centric company, but not becoming a partner ensures continued success. If close affiliates to Cisco can create and prove a profitable business model, with exponential growth which is outside the realms of their partnership criteria, then reciprocation is needed to establish a functioning partnership.

The purpose of this blog article is to open up debate surrounding the Cisco partnership model. Do you think Professional Services as a business model can work without being a Cisco partner? If you’re a Cisco partner what would you recommend? Feel free to comment on this article – musings, rants and opinions are all welcome.

White Labelled Cisco Professional Services by 4CornerNetworks

White Labelled Cisco Professional Services

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White Labelled Services is when a product or service from a manufacturer/producer is repackaged and sold by another company who then applies their own brand to it, and re-sells as their own service. The end client assumes the seller is selling its own product. The procurement of White Labelled Cisco Professional Services is predominantly from VAR’s, Managed Service Providers, ICT Companies and Cisco Partners who often require additional Cisco Engineering support to deliver their core services.

To be a successful provider of White Labelled Services, the key is to appear to not exist at all – be the invisible company.

Partnership Collaboration

As a company purchasing White Labelled Cisco Professional Services, it is vital to choose your partnering company wisely. The first rule is to ensure there is no conflict of interest. The White Labelled Service Provider should not have business relations with your end clients or any of their close competitors; it must be a non-competitive relationship.

A partnership isn’t a partnership unless there is a genuine mutually beneficial relationship between both parties. It is essential that the white labelled provider develops an understanding of your strategy and culture. What do you demand from your existing employees? Do you have a code of conduct you issue to existing staff? What core values do you empower your staff with? – By integrating company strategies, cultures and demands the quality of service received by the end client will always be impeccable.

Capital, skills, knowledge and certifications are all tangible resources shared between the collaborating parties which result in a successful partnership. The white labelled provider bears the costs and time of employing the Cisco Engineers. Certifications, passports, CV’s and references all need to be verified – quality of staff = quality of service.

Branded By You Delivered By Us

If you’re the company purchasing outsourced White Labelled Cisco Professional Services, it’s important that your end client thinks “what outsourcing?” The client shouldn’t be fooled, but if they notice 2 different companies, if they notice a difference in the quality of staff and service, then you’re not delivering truly exceptional white labelled services.

How else would your company gain access to ALL the Cisco certifications available? You’ll need Cisco certified Engineers in ALL of your international & regional offices, those Engineers will need to be experts in R&S, Wireless, Security, Collaboration, Service Provider and Data Centre. If you can’t afford to employ Cisco Engineers in all your offices, then at some point you’ll be sending them on an all expenses trip around the country/world – shame on you for your impact on the environment!

As the procurer of white labelled services it should be your logo, company name and quality standards that must be adhered to at all times, in essence it needs to be Branded By You, Delivered By Us.

As a White Labelled Cisco Professional Services provider you sacrifice the glory of gaining a prestigious client, you sacrifice the praise of delivering an exceptionally high quality of service. You truly are the invisible company, you don’t exist – and if you do your job right, being invisible is all you need to aspire to be.

Female Cisco Engineers - the rise of women in IT

Transformation – The Rise of Female Engineers

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In the UK alone, a mere 16% of the IT workforce are female and only 8% are Engineers – bleak statistics indeed, but the future looks bright for women in IT with the rise of several prominent women in key positions within top companies.

Attitudes and current cultures need to change; men and women in the field of ICT need to challenge antiquated norms, challenge male-orientated environments and place just as much trust in a female in ICT as we do in males. A greater balance between males and females in key Technology and Board room positions help to:

  • Create equality
  • Challenge existing norms
  • Create an environment to harness innovation
  • Inspire more women to work in IT

Potential employers of female IT Engineers shouldn’t employ more women because they’re women, it should be done with the foresight of improving your business and fostering innovation. When a male IT Engineer turns up to a client for a job nobody blinks, when the Engineer is female everyone is watching – a woman with a screwdriver here to rack and mount? Then, when the female performs to an identical level of standards as the man, it is the female who will get the plaudits from the client – why, because they stood out. Make female Engineers a key strength of your company, stand out from your competitors and create a competitive advantage – pink screwdrivers work the same as black ones, but one catches the eye more.

Marissa Mayer – CEO Yahoo

In 1999 Marissa joined a young Google as employee number 20 and more significantly as their 1st ever female Engineer. For the next 13 years, Mayer climbed the ranks of Google heading the Google mentorship programme, multi-million dollar acquisitions and Google maps.

At just 37 years young, Mayer was appointed CEO of Googles fierce rivals Yahoo and has since been named in Fortune & Forbes list of the Most Powerful Women in Business in the world, and holding her own against the men to become number 10 as Business Person of the Year.

Rebecca Jacoby – CIO Cisco

For the past 20 years, Rebecca Jacoby has risen through the ranks at networking equipment giant Cisco and has been CIO & Senior Vice President since 2006. A founding member of the Technology Business Management Council, Rebecca is at the forefront of progressive technology. Considering Jacoby started her career in manufacturing and supply chain, she’s an inspiration to any gender working at Cisco, Network Engineering or in Technology.

In a recent interview with David Weldon of FierceCIO, Rebecca quoted “in my career I liked being involved in transformation. I always got the most out of jobs when I was asked to go in and make change and keep driving change.” Somewhat ironic that transformation is the key driving technological innovation and likewise, in this blog post with transformation being the key to creating a gender balance in Network Engineering, ICT and business.

Cisco

Girls in ICT day is a CSR programme where Cisco employees engage with 13-18 year old girls aspiring to work in the field of ICT. In 2015 over 3,000 students attended, up from 2,331 in 2014 proving the success of reaching out to females at a young age.

Culture

The problems of having such a paltry amount of female Network Engineers & ICT isn’t so much a failure within existing businesses, but more of a wide-spread ignorance. If there are more prominent female Engineers, CIO’s and CTO’s then more young girls will see a future for themselves in a traditionally male-orientated role. Zeus Kerravala, Founder & Principal Analyst with the ZK Research says there is a lack of skilled Network Engineers, especially in Wireless, Voice & Security. Therefore there are jobs to fill as Network Engineers – jobs that women can fill if given the chance.

If you’re a female Engineer what barriers have you had to face in ICT? If you’re an employer what’s your opinion on the lack or rise of female Engineers? All comments are warmly welcomed.