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Cisco Spotlight Series: Service with a smile

Gary Moore couldn't be prouder. During the past four years, the Cisco Systems Inc. senior vice president has transformed the networking giant's advanced services group from an organization that helps fix products to one that addresses what Cisco calls the product lifecycle.

What's the difference? Now, Moore said, Cisco can help any customer with any problem – whether it's products, processes or planning for the future -- better and faster than ever before. spoke with Moore about the state of the professional services industry, how Cisco avoids stepping on its resellers' toes and whether Cisco will become the next Electronic Data Systems Corp. (EDS).

What's your strategy in terms of creating new service offerings and supporting Cisco business partners without competing with them?
Large enterprise customers, the very leading-edge shops, when they want a direct relationship with Cisco, we deliver services directly to them. But we use those relationships to help codify templates around how we do things. We put the same engineers on a help desk that partners can go to, plus we have a Web site that partners can go to. We're connected with the channel sales organization, and I have people in my technology practices tightly aligned to my channel program to ensure we're enabling our partners with what we've learned out there through pilots and early deployments and with leading-edge customers.

Gary Moore
Gary Moore
So I think we've reduced conflicts with the channel tremendously, though that doesn't mean there aren't some out there, but we almost always use the partners for design and implementation work, and enable them with the same tools that we use. For those enterprises that may not be up to speed with your Smartnet technical service program, what's the latest on its mission statement and anything new or any big chances as of late?
Because Smartnet has been around for so long, people feel like we haven't changed it, and nothing could be further from the truth. The portfolio offerings we have -- everything from our technical assistance center to our software downloads -- have all been upgraded, and the number of customers who fix their own problems or solve their own issues as a result is above 80%. Those with upgraded Smartnet contracts now have a separate number to call. We have added high-touch tech support teams, which are groups of engineers that are only dedicated to a particular customer. They have intimate knowledge of that network, what changes are going on, what that customer has planned, etc. In conjunction with a set of recent SMB releases, Cisco unveiled the SMB Support Assistant program. Can you tell me a bit about the genesis of that offering?
We took the Smartnet offering and packaged it in a way that makes sense for our SMB customers. Typically, when they implement wireless LANs and IP voice and those types of services, they need a higher level of support. So this offering is packaged in a way that's more simply deployed. The level of engineering experience required to interface with the service really is the key. With Smartnet, you normally have to be a CCIE-level engineer to interface with the technical assistance center, and this program is simpler than that. And we're not taking less skilled engineers or offering less content. We're repackaging the same content we provide to enterprises for that size customer -- 1,000 employees or less.
With Smartnet, you normally have to be a CCIE-level engineer to interface with the technical assistance center, and [SMB Support Assistant] is simpler than that.
Gary Moore,
Outsourcing and working with foreign support technicians is a sensitive issue for IT pros. How you address that with a significant portion of your North American support staff based overseas?
One of the key differentiators at Cisco is that we have a global support model. Essentially it follows the sun -- we have engineers in San Jose, Calif., who pick up those in Raleigh, N.C., who pick up from engineers in Brussels. And we have teams in Australia, Singapore, the Philippines and China. I don't think it's that easy to answer your question -- I won't even use a number -- but we do the same quality surveys and look closely at the performance of each support center every day, whether it's a Cisco center or an outsourced center. I know [senior vice president of worldwide technical support] Joe Pinto and his team are deeply committed to making sure that where we've outsourced something, we have the right tools in place. As Cisco has grown, it has expanded into many new markets, most recently application-oriented networking (AON), which some see as a play that could challenge folks like IBM and BEA Systems. Do you see Cisco's professional services efforts rivaling the larger players like IBM, EDS and Hewlett-Packard?
No, no, quite the contrary. IBM, EDS and HP are three of Cisco's best partners. There are middleware companies that are going to feel threatened by what we're doing with AON, but the world is moving from packet-oriented to application-oriented networking because we need to from a security point of view and a speed point of view. Our partners understand that Cisco is not trying to build a huge services business like IBM's. At the risk of sounding clichÉ, it's really about the customer.

We were just awarded a services contract by a large global bank, and it wanted Cisco and HP to jointly take over its services. So we went in on the joint engagement, and we've been successful because of how seamlessly our teams are working. I think it's saying something when two large companies that each have their own ways of doing things can come together that beautifully. Like all vendors, Cisco over time phases out older products in favor of newer technologies. It's standard policy at Cisco to support only generally available products and services. How do you go about finding a balance between supporting legacy products and shifting the emphasis to newer equipment?
I think we have a very well documented policy regarding informing our customers about product end-of-life scenarios. We do have a services offering that goes beyond that, five years, if desired, but I think the key thing is when we end-of-life a product, it's usually because there's a security risk that causes us to make that product go away. It's all about making sure our customers can stay on a current version of software and keeping them up to date so they're not vulnerable.

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In terms of wireless networking, what are the top issues that organizations fail to plan for, or underestimate support needs for?
I think it's the day-two support, especially things like capacity planning and security. Technologies like Wi-Fi and RFID have the potential to add tremendous load to the network, when maybe you least expect it. I've been stuck at the airport and unable to connect to a wireless network because 15 other flights didn't take off and they didn't prepare the network for a sudden surge in usage. What we've found is that if you do the right preparation up front, and that means the right planning and design, then you can avoid a lot of those pitfalls later on. Finally, what trends do you see affecting your market during the next few years?
As we move to virtualization and AON, and security becomes even more of an issue, I think those are the areas where you see companies invest not only in tech but also in skills. Five-nines reliability is something that most companies aspire to, but also a secure five-nines environment, so I think something you'll hear from Cisco is virtual franchising -- we want customers to get the same quality and consistency of services though our partners that they would get from us. I have groups that work on knowledge management and tools, and we're building improvements into the process every day.

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