Interview

Digital Transformation Journey Brings Challenge and Opportunity for Partners

Pankaj Lulla, Director, Partner Organization, Cisco India and SAARC

Blurb: “Next, as consumers become increasingly dispersed, distributed, and digital, partners need to foster new skillsets to remain relevant. They must also look at pivoting their business models and building capabilities in managed services, everything-as-a-service, adoption services, and custom-developed apps, which necessitates investing in robust cloud and networking infrastructure.”

Covid-19 has changed the market dynamics for sure. It has pushed forth the agenda digital transformation for the enterprise aggressively. This has created opportunity and challenge for the partner ecosystem. Recently appointed, Director, Partner Organization, Cisco India and SAARC, Pankaj Lulla speaks to SME Channels about it.

How is the present market shaping up and what is the new normal?

There are a few trends that are shaping the new normal, influenced by changing consumer behaviors. First, as consumers become more conscious of their health and safety, every business will need to create a promise around health to gain back their customers’ trust. Next, the post-COVID world will also see the emergence of disruptive business models, as organizations try to pivot their portfolios in preparation for the new normal. And finally, the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation journeys by several years, and technology is quickly becoming essential to everything we do.

This is where the challenge and opportunity lie for partners. As they work towards catering to new markets and digital consumers, they need to accelerate the automation of their operations to reduce costs and optimize their supply chains. They also need to reimagine their own business models to accommodate the rising demand for managed services and everything-as-a-service.

As our customers prepare to start operations post-COVID, Cisco, along with our partners, is well-positioned to help them navigate the new world. We make the technologies that power remote productivity, and we have a global scale through our partners to effect change.

Which are the sectors driving growth for the technology providers?

Digitization is no longer a choice; it is an imperative. During the pandemic, many industries witnessed accelerated digitization of existing processes, and are now switching to new ways of doing business and delivering services.

The preference for digital alternatives is rising in healthcare, education, BFSI, e-governance, shopping, events, entertainment, etc., as well as remote working. As a result, the demand for cloud-delivered, simplified collaboration, and security technologies is also increasing tremendously. For instance, Cisco Webex hosted over 15.8 million meetings in July, the highest volume since April – indicating that this trend is here to stay.

Additionally, small businesses in India are accelerating their digitization journeys to pivot quickly, plug gaps, and create a gamut of differentiated offerings for the newly digital consumer as well as a level playing field.

Lastly, given the extent to which the pandemic has disrupted global supply chains, the focus is shifting to fortifying local supply chains that allow a greater degree of agility and resilience.

All these changes present a massive opportunity for technology providers to cater to shifting consumer behaviors and new business models.

Which technologies are going to drive the market?

Telehealth, e-learning, e-governance, online shopping, remote working, etc. are not new concepts, but the adoption and demand they are witnessing today are unprecedented. With new digital consumer behaviors and business models taking firm hold, the focus will shift from mere enablement to streamlining the hurdles of digital experiences and making them far more interactive, intelligent, and “human” than ever before. Here, emerging technologies like AI/ML, robotics, data analytics, and cybersecurity will become critical.

The use cases of these technologies extend far beyond citizen services to powering smart agriculture, smart cities, industrial automation, and more. They are key to leading India to its next phase of sustainable and balanced economic growth. In enabling this low-touch ecosystem and the new digital practices it will bring, networking technologies like 5G and WiFi-6 will also become crucial.

How is Cisco supporting partners through the pandemic?

Over the last several months, our priority has been to support our partners through these unprecedented times. To make their transition to remote working easy and seamless, we have enabled free access to cloud-based offerings across our security and collaboration portfolios.

We have been focusing on delivering on our mantra of “Perform and Transform”, which is about helping partners achieve their daily business goals while working towards capitalizing on new opportunities emerging today.

Many of our partners are currently facing a slowdown in their cashflows and business. Through Cisco Capital, we hope to ease their financial burden by providing a broad range of flexible payment solutions to customers, allowing partners to receive payments on time. We have engaged with more than 400 partners over 150+ Cisco-led enablement collaboration sessions across India and the SAARC nations. We have assisted our partner in creating offerings for secure work from home with our Webex and security platforms. Moreover, together with our partners, we have enabled our customers to migrate to remote work models quickly and securely.

We have also reassured our partners that their Cisco certifications, specializations, and authorizations will not be impacted during this time, even if they are unable to complete their training or take exams.

As there is a visible technology shift in the market, how is Cisco focussing on the training and skilling of the partners?

Partners need to build new skill sets to make themselves relevant to their customers in the current times. Our partner programs are aimed at three key areas – recognizing strengths, refreshing to digital, and moving to lifecycle and recurring revenue.

The Cisco Black Belt program is a simplified enablement framework to help partner sales representatives and engineers understand Cisco’s competitive advantage and how our solutions stand against the competition. It is delivered in a virtual environment to provide scale, agility, and is on-demand for a self-paced experience. India currently has the highest adoption of the Black Belt program.

Similarly, the “X-sell” program arms partners with improved knowledge and skills through sales development practice and training in the partner’s region to help them create, lead, and drive sales.

We are also working with our partners to pair their capabilities with our architecture through the Practice Development program. This involves understanding the ecosystem within which they are operating to create solutions that they can take to the marketplace.

Another important part of enhancing our partners’ capabilities is assisting them in building their CX practice. We have been working with them to fine-tune their CX practices and become CX specialized. The CX specialization for partners mirrors the capabilities of Cisco in terms of structure, process, and tools. Some of the updated CX portfolio includes BCS 3.0, Solution Support, Software Support, Cisco Managed Services.

What kind of financial support is Cisco offering to the partners?

Many of our partners are currently facing a slowdown in their cashflows and business. Through Cisco Capital, we hope to ease their financial burden by providing a broad range of flexible payment solutions to customers, allowing partners to receive payments on time.

Enumerate the top 3 technologies that partners need to focus on and why.

In this new decade, especially post-COVID, technology will be core to everything we do, consume, innovate, and build. This spells tremendous promise for new and renewed growth for partners. However, to tap into these growth areas, partners must look at digitizing their operations and supply chains to reduce costs and improve efficiencies, for which robotics, AI/ML, and data analytics will be essential.

Next, as consumers become increasingly dispersed, distributed, and digital, partners need to foster new skillsets to remain relevant. They must also look at pivoting their business models and building capabilities in managed services, everything-as-a-service, adoption services, and custom-developed apps, which necessitates investing in robust cloud and networking infrastructure.

Lastly, in the new low-touch/no-touch economy that the pandemic is shaping, cybersecurity must be at the forefront to ensure the success of remote environments. Partners must, therefore, look at deploying cybersecurity protocols to safeguard their own assets and employees and support their customers in doing the same.

Our efforts over the last few years have been focused on enabling our partners to develop digital solutions that offer an enhanced customer experienced, and we are well-positioned to help them capture the opportunities of the next normal.

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