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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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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gaining a certification as a Cisco Network Engineer is only the beginning of your professional journey, next you need a job. There are literally thousands of Engineers passing CCNA, CCNP and CCIE exams around the world every single year. All those bits of paper look the same; they all tell prospective employers that you did indeed pass the written and trickier lab exams.
You might have a Cisco Certification, but so do thousands more – the question is “Why would an employer hire you rather than the thousands of other equally qualified individuals?” Gaining experience can only be gained by well, gaining experience – so what else can help you become a SUCCESSFUL Cisco Network Engineer?
Any prospective employer and end client will demand a high level of professionalism at all times so you need to consider perception – how does the client or employer perceive your levels of professionalism? Make sure you:
- Ensure the project scope/SLA agreement is adhered to at all times
- Have your Engineers tools/kit – Be Prepared!
- Dress like the professional you are
- You’re the Technical one, not everyone else so refrain from jargon & being overly-technical
Applying for a job as a Network Engineer is just like any other, you need to portray a good image and one of professionalism. I recently had an online conversation with a Cisco Engineer who appeared on our website with the words “Need Job Mate” – em not from me you won’t, especially as your level of professionalism is shocking!
Regardless of where you’re from, learn to speak the local language – and well. As skilled as you may be with IT Networks and the technical aspect of being a Cisco Engineer, you need to be able to communicate with clients, employers & stakeholders. There needs to be a trail of the work you carry out from start to finish, make sure you:
- If you’re running late, tell your boss as early as possible
- Alert your employer/boss of the time you arrive/leave and report to your onsite contact
- Take photos before and after your work has been completed
- Double check your work against the project scope – always focus on Quality of Service
Often external forces like bad weather, heavy traffic or car trouble can’t be avoided, so just ensure that you communicate with your seniors making your movements easier to monitor & track.
Once you’ve passed 1 exam, don’t stop! The more Cisco tracks you have, the better chance you stand of being employed. Technology, business and Cisco qualifications are all evolving – CCNA/CCIE Voice, Storage Networking and Service Provider Operations are now all obsolete – so keep training otherwise your skills will also become superseded. Gaining a certification in R&S is only the start; think about gaining certifications in Security, Unified Communications and Wireless – none of these tracks are likely to be retired anytime soon. With the birth of IoT, BYOD, Big Data and Cloud computing then skills for Unified Communications, Cybersecurity and Wireless will all be in high demand.
To become an in-demand Cisco Engineer – be responsive! If your employer calls you and asks “can you be in London/Paris in an hour?” put down your knife and fork, grab your kit and get moving. Respond to trends in the marketplace, less focus on Voice, more focus on Unified Communications. Less focus on Storage Networking and more on Data Storage and Cloud computing. Recently there have been some high profile security breaches with Sony, JP Morgan Chase and AOL and in 2015 75% of CIO’s intend to increase their IT Security expenditure, therefore be poised to respond to the trends happening in the world of IT Networking.
Leave the site exactly as you found it. Ensure the communications cabinet is securely closed follow all in-house security protocols and don’t leave a mess. You’d be surprised as to the big impression you can make with small gestures of housekeeping.
Being a Cisco Network Engineer requires greater skills than the ability to rack, mount and stack a server or two. There’s an estimated 600,000 Cisco Certified Engineers worldwide, so if your professionalism, communication and housekeeping skills are lacking – then you won’t be stacking and racking. Since gaining your Cisco Certifications what problems have you encountered when looking for a job? As a client, what skills do you think Engineers lack/excel at? All comments are welcome 🙂
The global IT Outsourcing market is worth in excess of $250 billion and rising each year by 6.8% CAGR, demonstrating the rise in demand for Enterprises, the Public Sector & SME’s to outsource their IT requirements year on year. Companies elect to outsource for a number of reasons – to cut costs, to access cheaper resources and to achieve economies of scale. All of which are focused solely on the need to increase profits by decreasing operating expenses, it’s all about improving the bottom line.
Now that the bottom line has evolved into the triple bottom line, more organisations are beginning to realise the importance of the planet and people have in generating and sustaining profits. “But having a green focus will cost my company money” is the myth I often hear from ICT providers, Enterprises, Telecommunication companies and Managed Service Providers – but a myth this is.
This article will explore how organisations may be losing out on opportunities with potential partners & customers by being profit driven with no sustainability strategy. Business objectives in any industry are simple to understand – generate profits. However when it comes to IT Outsourcing, it’s now time to go green or go home.
Carbon Footprint, Energy Efficiency & Consumption Reduction
Whether it’s IT Networking, Mobile Apps or Cybersecurity, when IT functions are outsourced, the impact on an Organisation’s carbon footprint is positive. Take for example Company A, they have offices in over 50 countries and a central IT Department in country X. Now if Company A have an issue with their IT Network or an IT Security issue then they need to send an in-house Network Engineer or IT Security Expert to country X, Y and Z. The journey of the in-house employee will proceed by driving to the airport, flying to their international destination, then driving to the office in country X – already the carbon dioxide emissions emitted has damaged the atmosphere.
However if Company A decided to Outsource rather than send in-house staff on an around-the-world trip, significant reductions would be made in carbon emissions. Less petrol/diesel would be used as no/shorter car journeys would be necessary, no jet fuel consumed, no oil to maintain vehicles and no additional electricity – Same outcome but this time with a reduction in carbon emissions and at a fraction of the overall cost – sustainable savings.
Regulatory & Market Demand
Directors with their fat bonuses and Shareholders with their fat dividends shouldn’t be the only stakeholders to influence business decisions – listening to the demands of your customers and potential partners are just as important.
Customers now actively seek companies with strong green credentials and base their buying decisions on the strength of their green/sustainable credentials. So many products and services are homogenised that often the only point of difference between companies is to embrace sustainability – it’s no longer tree huggers and revolutionists demanding protection for the environment, it’s YOUR customers.
According to the Brown-Wilson Group’s Black Book of Outsourcing, 21% of EU & USA Organisations outsourcing specifies that green elements must be included in contracts, a figure which is set to double in the next 12 months. In the UK Public Sector, environmental regulations in procurement decisions stipulate that sustainability must be considered. Therefore public sector contracts are no longer driven by the cheapest prices, but the 3 P’s – Profit, People & the Planet.
Climate Change Agreements (CCA) allows energy intensive industries such as Data Centres to reduce their energy consumption for a reduction in levies. Data Centres have now reached a significant size and maturity that as an Industry they contribute to lowering national carbon emissions. With an increasing amount of organisations outsourcing their Data Centre needs, there is a direct correlation between IT Outsourcing & improving sustainability.
Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) is another area in IT Outsourcing whereby green-focused KPI’s are part of the contract terms. Mileage, emission reductions and sustainable materials are all part of modern-day “Green Contracts” and if your company isn’t prepared then it’s time to go green or go home.
Going green is no longer about box ticking and greenwashing, your end-customers demand it, your partners demand it and governments & legislation demand it. If your customers demanded a new product, one would be invented so when they demand a sustainably driven company, give them it. Do you think having a sustainability strategy in the world of IT helps or hinders IT Outsourcing?
With a market cap of $119 billion, 2014 sales of $48 billion and ranked number 12 in the world’s most valuable Brands, Cisco are the industry leaders in IT Networking equipment. The likelihood is that readers of this article will be working with or have worked with Cisco Network Systems. Therefore if your company is working with a Cisco Network System then you’ve faced the dilemma of choosing between outsourcing the need for Cisco Support or employing in-house Engineers.
As an SME, Enterprise or a non-ICT related company with a Cisco IT/Phone system, then you need to think about the level of Cisco Engineers you need to employ for your business. Whereas Managed Service Providers, Professional Services & Cisco Channel Partners need to think about the level of Cisco Engineers your clients require. Either way, outsourcing can provide your business with the specialist Cisco skills you need and at a fraction of the cost and risk of employing Cisco Engineers in-house.
1) Lower Operational Costs
In the UK Cisco Engineers command high salaries and rightfully so, they’ve studied and trained hard to achieve their status. Current 2015 average salaries for Cisco Engineers in the UK are:
Your Operational costs don’t end there, other costs associated with in-house Cisco Engineers are:
- Holidays & Sickness
- Salary benefits – Bonus, Shares, Pension, Health Care & Annual Pay Increase
- Additional Benefits – Company Car, Petrol Allowance, Laptop, Mobile Phone
- Maternity/Paternity Pay
- Staff Training
- National Insurance & Tax Contributions
- Portion of running costs – office, furniture, equipment, admin costs & consumables
- Cost of Employment – In-House costs or Recruitment Agency
Accumulating the additional costs of employing in-house, a CCNA salary can be well in excess of £50,000 per year or around £23 per hour. Compare this to the average hourly rate of a CCNA which is currently £18 per hour resulting in savings of 27.8% when outsourcing against employing in-house. Your wallet, your choice.
(Visit http://www.accountingservicesforbusiness.co.uk/calculators1/true-cost-of-an-employee/ to calculate the annual cost of your employees and http://www.itjobswatch.co.uk/contracts/uk/ccna.do for CCNA rates)
2) Access to Skills & Knowledge
The Internet of Things (IoT), mobile devices, smart cities, big data and the human fascination and dependency on technology facilitate the need for Cisco Engineers to specialise in certain tracks. You might have an in-house CCNA, or CCIE, but do they specialise in Unified Communications, Security, Wireless, VoIP, R&S and Data Centre? How many hours and years of training would be required to have access to such a varied and multi-skilled workforce in-house? How much would this cost your company?
Having access to the skills and knowledge of certified Cisco Engineers is the most significant reason to consider outsourcing your need for Cisco Support. Quality of service is often cited as a reason not to outsource, however if you focus on creating strict SLA’s and define a clear scope of work between your outsourcing partner, then you can achieve exemplary quality of service for your end customers.
If you outsource your Cisco Support then you simply pay for what you need and use. Replace outsourcing with employing the multitude of Cisco Engineers in-house and you’ll need to ensure you have enough work for the Engineers every day, 52 weeks of the year.
How much time and money do you think line managers and HR departments waste on frivolous staff issues? “Can I have a day off for the dentist?”, “I need to take my dog to the vet” and so on. Employees also are savvier with their knowledge of employment legislation and their rights – holidays, sick pay, pensions, maternity leave and more heavyweight issues such as unfair dismissal and equal rights. It’s not only your balance sheet at risk; it’s your Brand, reputation and credibility in your industry. Taking risks is part of business, but if you can avoid being exposed to such substantial risks then why wouldn’t you outsource.
Do you employ in-house or outsource and why? However opinionated you may be, please feel free to leave your comments.