Cisco Systems Inc. typically announces some new products at its annual reseller event, Partner Summit this week in Miami. But equally important are initiatives to enable its global ecosystem of partners to be more successful by directing them into emerging areas, since about 90% of its business flows through the channel.
As expected, artificial intelligence is a key theme at the event, with Cisco emphasizing the importance of integrating AI into everyday business processes. According to findings from Cisco’s soon-to-be-released AI Readiness Index Survey, approximately 70% of organizations believe their information technology infrastructure is not scalable and, therefore, not ready for AI. The data suggests that many organizations may face challenges in adapting their current IT environments to support the demands of AI.
“AI use cases increasingly require data to be analyzed at the source, in the data center, and at the edge, in a very distributed way,” Jason W. Gallo, vice president of Cisco’s Global Partner GTM Acceleration, said during a pre-briefing with analysts. “Our customers might be tempted to stand up islands of standalone AI servers that will lead to an enormous management burden, security and skills challenges.”
Although the interest in AI is high, the large number of customers that believe their infrastructure is not AI-ready presents an excellent opportunity for partners. Customers may be willing to spend the money to modernize their infrastructure, but many of the ones I’ve talked to aren’t sure where to start. The new AI Readiness Index enables partners to help customers understand where they are and the end state.
To address today’s IT departments’ challenges when deploying AI solutions, Cisco partnered with industry leaders — including NetApp, Nutanix, Nvidia, Pure Storage and Red Hat — to develop Cisco Validated Designs for AI. CVDs can be considered design blueprints for Cisco technology, making it easier for companies to adopt AI without extra complications or create separate, difficult-to-manage systems.
CVDs have been extremely popular for Cisco in other technology areas, such as software-defined wide-area network, security, automation and edge computing. The end-to-end design lowers risks and speeds up time to market, and I expect the AI CVDs to be highly successful.
Additionally, Cisco significantly enhanced its Full-Stack Observability Platform, allowing developers to create custom modules suited to their specific requirements. These modules can help companies gain insights into various aspects, such as sustainability, and drive operational efficiency. The idea is to harness telemetry data and turn it into actionable insights that can be used to improve business strategy.
“We’ve continued to add and enhance the capabilities of our FSO Platform over the past year,” Gallo said. “This has opened up the opportunity for our partners to access those capabilities via open APIs, giving them a chance to develop integrations and their own intellectual capital.”
On the cybersecurity front, Cisco unveiled new security suites focused on user, cloud and breach protection. Gallo explained that this new approach redefines how cybersecurity products are packaged and consumed, promising an integrated, predictable, cost-effective solution. Cisco’s strategy involves identifying the most critical use cases and ensuring its products are compatible with various systems.
Lastly, Cisco shared an update on the Partner Innovation Challenge. The program has seen a surge in participation, reflecting its success in driving new solutions. The sixth annual challenge introduced a new award called Partnering for Purpose, encouraging partners to innovate in areas such as providing digital access, improving work life, tackling climate change, protecting the environment, responding to emergencies, and meeting basic human needs.
I was glad to see the introduction of the Partnering for Purpose award. Cisco has a well-defined purpose of “powering an inclusive future for all,” but it can’t make a big, global impact without scaling up through its partner community. The new awards are focused on improving the world, and I’d like to see Cisco continue to reward partners that make the biggest difference in this area.
This year’s Partner Innovation Challenge winners included grand-prize recipient Ormit Solutions, which developed a Wi-Fi solution for academic and residential communities. Long View Systems, the second-place winner, created a building management system that leverages existing Cisco technologies to deliver energy-efficient, occupant-focused controls. CAE Labs, the third-place winner, built a network intelligence platform that provides customers with a complete view of their Cisco investments through a dashboard.
Over the years, I have heard the speculation that Cisco was looking to cut its partners out of the loop, which would allow the company to retain more margin. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
Every Cisco executive I have talked to about this, from Chief Executive Chuck Robbins (pictured) down, continually reiterates the importance of the channel. Day one news is focused on helping Cisco’s partners capture more business in AI, security and FSO, and if the partners are successful, so will Cisco and its customers.