As experts in Cisco Professional Services, the 4CornerNetworks blog covers a wide range of Cisco Network related topics. Our blog features topics from Cisco Support Services, Cisco Engineers and our specialist blogs based on Cisco Security.
Head of Security Deyan Panchev writes about Cisco Security providing advice, tips and insights into topics such as Cisco Firepower services, Cisco ASA Firewall Support, Installations and Deployments. Topical issues about network security are also discussed on our blog ranging from the NGFW (Next Generation Firewalls) to the recent Wannacry outbreak.
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Back when computers ran off cassette tapes and plugged into your spare TV, it was generally the least cool kids in school who spent time in the IT suite – or as it was known in those simpler times, the computer room. The terms “geek” and “nerd” were coined to describe these unloved adolescents, and were used as playground insults by schoolboys of all ages.
How times have changed: Thanks to the pioneering efforts of some of those early IT engineers, computers became slick and fun, and soon they were essential to business too. More and more clever people saw where things were going and learned about IT; then they found more applications for it and built highly successful businesses using the new technology. Before we knew it, the terms geek and nerd were no longer pejorative, but used in a kind of awe of those who had mastered this world-changing technology. Nevertheless, most of us still prefer the term engineer.
IT engineering has been a desirable career for some time now, and yet there is still a shortage in many specialities. In terms of Cisco Engineers, the shortage is particularly acute, while at the same time there is also a pressing demand from companies who need their networks to work smoothly and cope with an ever larger and more business-critical level of usage. Given the fact that these are well paid roles, economic theory suggests that more people will chose IT engineering as a career and that the gap between demand and supply will close. However, that theory would under-estimate the quality of people needed to set up and maintain the ever more sophisticated networks in use.
To get an idea of the kind of people involved in Cisco Engineering, just take a look at the astonishing array of companies that have been started by former Cisco employees and engineers – this link gives just a few examples: http://www.networkworld.com/article/2988547/cisco-subnet/18-companies-launched-by-former-cisco-people.html
The fact that these engineers are of such a calibre and ambition that many seek to set up their own ventures further explains the shortage of skilled workers available to the average business, which doesn’t have the resources to keep specialists in all Cisco disciplines – if any – on its staff, let alone enough to cover all its global operations. In fact, Cisco itself has had problems retaining its best people, and adopted an extraordinary policy of encouraging ambitious employees to develop “spin-in” businesses that it would then buy from them, often for millions of dollars. This policy had the added benefit of keeping entrepreneurial innovation at the heart of the firm even after it had grown into a global giant, and of course made the job of building, maintaining and updating its systems even more demanding as they incorporated the innovative and disruptive technologies developed through the spin-in process.
Many were surprised to hear that Cisco is apparently ditching its spin-in programme last year, although reading between the lines it appears that the policy will essentially be retained in another form: http://www.businessinsider.com/ciscos-new-ceo-ditches-spins-ins-2015-11 This is just as well, as the flow of new IT and network applications which comes through this system has helped drive growth and profitability across many industries around the world. For ambitious businesses wanting to remain part of that growth story and keen to retain a leading position in their sector, access to Cisco Engineers is essential – and they must not only be suitably qualified, but thoroughly up to the job of working with cutting edge companies in many industries and helping them to innovate where necessary as well. That is why 4CornerNetworks exists: to supply those professional services.
We specialise solely in Cisco Professional Services, because although the hardware for the systems is essential, it is not in such short supply. We believe that access to great engineers is important for businesses to thrive and grow, and we understand that different firms have different needs in terms of the amount of help they need. Unlike most of our competitors, therefore, we don’t set out to win customers by selling managed services packages that charge them for things they don’t need. At 4CornerNetworks, we just provide access to great engineers, when and where you need them. That way, all our clients have access to the full range of skills available – as if they have a full set of Cisco Engineers on their staff, all over the world.
Your Pain Points when working with a Supplier of Cisco Engineers
“They” say that 98% of published statistics are made up, and people will think that when market research doesn’t provide them with the answers they anticipated. Conducting market research with a 3rd party will help to eliminate subconscious bias when asking questions and help to provide a survey format whereby respondents submit honest and detailed responses. Here at 4CornerNetworks, that’s exactly what we did when partnering with CRN Channel Web as we embarked upon a quest to understand client experiences, good and bad, when engaging with a supplier of Cisco Engineering Resources.
C-Level Executives, Operations & Project Managers from Telecomms, Managed Service Providers, ICT Providers and Cisco Channel Partners were asked about their experiences when utilising Cisco Engineers from a 3rd party vendor.
- 1/3 Were not satisfied with their external supplier of choice
- Only 1/3 said they were happy!
- 83% Concerned with rising costs and additional charges
- 83% Concerned with lack of Engineering availability
- 48% Concerned with a lack of transparency on attending Engineers certifications and experience
We asked, the channel spoke and specified that a lack of available Cisco Engineers and High Costs were the two primary concerns. 40% of C-Level Executives stated that they used more than one supplier of Cisco Engineering Resources, with 45% of those respondents doing so due to a lack of engineering availability. A lack of available Engineers will naturally occur when external partners fail to understand your everyday business requirements. Where are your clients located? When do you experience dips or peaks in client demand? How quickly can your external partner process your request? – All these questions impact on Engineering availability and all can be avoided by planning, integrating processes with your external partner and studying previous trends to ensure that you can get Cisco Engineering excellence, where you need it, when you need it.
Access to Cisco Engineering Skills
2/3 of Telecomms, MSP’s, ICT & Cisco Partners utilised the services of a 3rd party vendor to gain access to specific Cisco Engineering skills not available in-house. However only a fraction, 7% of all respondents concluded that when hiring an external Cisco Engineering partner, that costs were a benefit of any such relationship – that’s 93% of hiring companies NOT completely satisfied with the costs they are being charged.
Almost half of all respondents expressed their concerns with the experience and qualifications of attending Engineers. Often the end client provides feedback on how each Engineer performs. How long it took them to perform tasks, their customer and communications skills and their overall technical ability and expertise. If an attending Engineer takes twice as long to perform tasks due to their lack of experience or because they are not adequately qualified, then costs increase and the quality of workmanship will reflect poorly on your Brand.
Peek-a-boo charges were the main cost concern when hiring a Cisco Field Engineer from an external partner. Upon opening your invoices, all of a sudden, peek-a-boo! Out pop charges for account set up, account maintenance, minimum booking time of 2-4 hour slots (when you only need an Engineer for 1 hour) and being charged for a CCNA, when all you got was a technical courier. Such charges make financial budgeting and forecasting almost impossible when you have no idea how much additional costs will be added to your invoice.
We Listened and…
We understood what problems your organisation faced when working with 3rd party suppliers of Cisco Engineers and what solutions will help to alleviate your pain points. More transparency, greater Cisco Engineering availability, consistent pricing and a select partner to work in tandem with your current business processes, ethos and culture.
SMART Onsite Service from 4CornerNetworks implemented by a customised Partnership Portal provides a solution to each and every pain point.
No set-up fees and no account management fees will ever be charged. We do not believe in winning new clients, then charging them for the privilege of being our client. Securing clients in a mutually beneficial long-term relationship will always be a main objective of 4CornerNetworks. Financial planning and budget control is now placed firmly back in the hands of our clients as a set monthly fee is charged by Direct Debit making forecasting easy and accurate because you know how much your bill will be every month.
Ease of Booking
S.O.S is only available to clients who outsource their requirements for Cisco Field Engineers of 500+ hours annually. You will be able to access the exclusive Partnership Portal of 4CornerNetworks where booking an Engineer when and where you need them is quick and easy to use. Simply choose the date, time and location of where you require an Engineer, provide a brief scope of work to gain instant access to Cisco Engineers where you need them, when you need them. This results in less admin time to source Engineers and less time and cost when working with an external partner.
Cisco Field Engineers Availability & Quality
Have you ever found yourself questioning the certifications and experience of an attending Engineer? Have you experienced Engineers turning up onsite late, unprepared and lacking in both customer and technical skills?
With S.O.S you will be able to view the details of Engineers, their Certifications and previous Quality Assurance scores. Therefore any Engineer you book will firstly need to satisfy your exact requirements and those of the end client. As a result of this function, the quality standards of your organisation will be significantly boosted brining you and your clients’ complete piece of mind.
Sourcing Cisco Engineers from a 3rd party supplier has thus far caused many organisations to seek alternative solutions to their Engineering requirements. Many existing suppliers of Cisco Field Engineers have caused customers to switch suppliers in search of transparent billing and certified Engineers. Perhaps the lesson to learn is to view your clients as partners and understand that there is a direct correlation between fair pricing, quality standards and long-term relationships.
In its search for the very best customer service, 4CornerNetworks has hired Cisco sales expert Steven Wood as UK Channel Partner Manager. In this latest update from the senior team, Steven shares his thoughts on why he chose 4CornerNetworks to progress his career, and discusses the plans the company has to ensure its service remains the best:
We all know that you find out who your true friends are when things are going badly. When you need to ask a big favour, and you call around – or more likely these days post on social media – there are those that will drop everything and come and help, and those that will mutter something about getting back to you when they have the time.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 🙂
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 🙂