Westcon Taps Cisco Managed Services for U.S. Rollout

By D.H. Kass

July 15, 2009

Westcon Group Inc., a $3B networking distributor, is offering Cisco Systems Inc.’s Smart Care Service to a select group of channel partners in the U.S., nearly one year after it launched a similar program in Europe.

The Cisco Smart Care Service is aimed at small- to medium-sized businesses and provides simplified network maintenance through recurring assessments, remote software repairs and technical support. It is delivered by Cisco-certified SMB channel partners through a single maintenance contract.

Westcon’s Comstor business unit, which specializes in Cisco networking gear, will administer the service offering and consult with channel partners that sell it. The U.S. service agreement comes only a few months after the two companies inked a three-year global distribution deal to ease cross-border transactions.

Both Westcon and Cisco officials described the offering as a collaboration among the vendor, distributor and channel partners to deliver a so-called “smart service” that proactively verifies that a customer’s network is highly secure, reliable and functioning at an optimum level.

A Westcon executive said that the distributor’s channel partners urged it to extend the Cisco Smart Care service to the U.S. market.

“The partners made it loud and clear to us--when they learned about the Smart Care Service offering from Cisco and considered bringing it into their business model--that they really wanted to have us involved in this,” said Christopher Fender, Westcon director of service sales.

Westcon, which maintains a roster of 8,000 resellers in the U.S., expects partner participation in the Smart Care service will be somewhat lower than the 300 resellers currently engaged in Europe, Fender said. “We are expecting to build sales through our existing partners and selectively recruit others,” he said. “We will be identifying partners that have high potential for success with this particular offer.”

The distributor will look both to channel partners experienced at service delivery and those that focus on product sales but want to move into managed services, Fender said.

“Smart Care is targeted toward SMB end customers so we’ll look to those partners that specialize or are particularly strong in regions or verticals as well as those that have a sales approach that emphasizes service philosophy,” he said. “We’re also looking at partners that have been historically product centric but because of the economy may be looking to retool and develop more of a service offer.”

Fender said that the Cisco service mapped well to Westcon’s consultative strategy for working with channel partners in that it presented opportunities for sustained profit, lowered costs, new sales and greater value with customers.

“We believe that the service-centric partner has durability and the potential for longevity, even in this market,” he said. “Partners that survive and flourish will be those that integrate annuity into their fundamental business model.”

A Cisco executive said that a key benefit of Smart Care was that it enabled channel partners to deliver service tailored to the customer’s requirements.

“Cisco Smart Care Service takes advantage of the complementary strengths of Cisco and the channel partners’ service capabilities, providing the end user with a unique, personalized service,” said Debbie Dunnam, Cisco Service vice president.

Cisco first introduced the Smart Care service two years ago and made it widely available last year. Fender said that the service still affords channel partners the opportunity to differentiate themselves.

“It is a solution that is available through multiple channels,” he said. “But partners can make it their own. We show them how to deliver a unique message that is branded around and integrated with their own home grown service. They can show the customer that they are providing a level of service not always present with other offers.”

Channel partners will be supported by a Cisco-dedicated team of 11 sales and marketing people sharpened on service issues. They will be provided demand generation through email marketing, direct mail and telesales to “give them a sketch of what the opportunity looks like,” Fender said. “We will coach them on the ROI story.”

He added that Westcon already has done some internal marketing to its partners and begun an online and in-person training series that it will expand in the next few months.

“This is not a catalog item saleable by any technology business partner,” Fender said. “It requires a commitment and capabilities not all partners possess. It steps away from the SKU-based service offer. Customers appreciate that and see the partner delivering it as valuable to them.”

Universal E-Business solutions, a New York-based, Cisco-certified provider of managed services and a Westcon channel partner, agreed with that assessment.

“Cisco Smart Care Service presents an excellent opportunity for us to brand our services offerings and take advantage of our existing expertise in this area,” said Anu Bhartiya, Universal managing director. “Certified partners can create their own customized offerings as they compete with each other to optimize service solutions for customers.”