Great expectations

Cisco KSA has been singled out as a star performer by the networking giant in the past few years, reinforcing its status as one of the Kingdom's top channel-focused vendors in the process. But is the growth really coming so easy? Channel Middle East caught up with managing director Dr. Badr Al-Badr at the company's CiscoExpo event in Riyadh to find out.

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By  Andrew Seymour Published  June 7, 2008

Cisco's worldwide channels team has made a lot of the fact that partners need to specialise and demonstrate technology depth. How is this issue playing out in KSA?

With the newer technologies there is some catching up that needs to happen. However, with those that have been with us for a few years, like IP telephony, security and wireless, I am quite happy with the depth and breadth of the partner landscape.

We are now actively training our partners to specialise in newer technologies such as digital media systems, real estate solutions and TelePresence.

Given your growth expectations for the market, is there a need for you to widen your distribution network?

We are actually already enlarging our distribution network and we are looking into specialised and regionalised distributors. I cannot really announce the plans yet, but as the market is growing, we are growing our distribution with it.

So the Saudi market can expect to see changes in your distribution model.

Let's not call it a distribution model - let's call it additions. Expansions and additions. Distribution accounts for about 25% of our business so it is critical that the distribution network is strengthened with the right partners.

Cisco has a global partnership with the Westcon Group, but it is not there in Saudi. Are there discussions to extend that relationship to Saudi Arabia?

We are having discussions with multiple partners right now. We are undergoing a selection process and once that is completed we will announce those who will be working with us. A partner working with Cisco internationally does not automatically qualify to work in Saudi Arabia.

We require our partners who want to work with us in Saudi Arabia to address the right level of local investment - to be fair to the other partners and to provide a better level of service to our customers. It is all about the commitment to local investment that needs to be demonstrated on the ground.

Is Westcon one of the companies you are having discussions with?

I cannot confirm or deny that. As you'll appreciate, it is a confidential matter.

In most markets, partners continue to raise the issue of margin erosion. What is Cisco doing to address this?

Consistently we have heard that as an issue with partners worldwide, not only in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia.

We addressed that in our global partner summit that took place in Hawaii a few weeks ago. We have multiple programmes that enrich the margins - some of them focus on having partners actively seeking out opportunities before they become over-competitive.

Another one is on specialisation in certain technologies where the partner will be unique and can command margin. We really care about the profitability of our channel partners because we know that they cannot sustain their relationship with us in the long term if they are not profitable.

Getting down to business

Cisco's partner community in Saudi Arabia has no excuse for being unprepared for serving up the latest networking solutions after receiving an update on the trends and technologies shaping the market at the vendor's recent annual ‘CiscoExpo' show.

More than 2,000 participants attended the 2008 installment of the Riyadh-based conference, the largest gathering of partners that Cisco has ever recorded in Saudi Arabia for an event that is now in its sixth year.

Cisco resellers and technology partners heard Massimo Migliuolo, VP service providers for emerging markets at Cisco, map out the future direction of the SP market in the wake of growing managed services demand, while senior executives from first-tier partners such as SBM and Dimension Data briefed listeners on topics impacting the networking channel.

A series of breakout sessions covering issues such as unified communications, data centre architecture strategy and next generation wireless LAN technology ensured technical engineers topped up their skills, as well as giving participants the inside track on how to deploy Cisco technologies.

Key Cisco partners were also given a pedestal to demonstrate their wares at the Expo. Al Jammaz Distribution and Logicom Saudi Arabia - which recently picked up Linksys rights for the Kingdom - gave the show some distribution flavour, while the likes of Oger, Ebttikar and Emircom ensured Cisco's full spectrum of Saudi partners was well represented.

Authorised training company Synergy Professional Services also turned out in force, detailing its second-half calendar of networking courses scheduled for Riyadh, as well as Dubai and Cairo.

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