The well-known quote “I skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been” attributed to the great Wayne Gretzky is often used in business vernacular, because it’s illustrative of why it’s critical to continually change a business based on market trends.
Never has that quote been more apropos for companies in the networking industry than it is today. The network has continually grown in importance during the past half-decade as digital transformation initiatives have largely become network-centric. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the use of video, cloud and work from home, which has put more pressure on the network. But make no mistake, the rise of the network had already begun.
Business Are Now Network-centric
This shift to network centricity has driven much of the recent evolution of network infrastructure. Software-defined data centers, SD-WANs, APIs, cloud management and other trends have changed network equipment. It’s programmable and more agile than ever. While the vendor community has done its part, the partner community, comprised of resellers, system integrators and the other organizations that sell and provide services for network equipment have been slow to evolve their skill set.
One of the interesting data points from my research is that fewer than 25% of network engineers have ever made an API (application programming interface) call. Bridging this gap is extremely important for the long-term viability of the partner community, but most have no idea where to start.
Cisco Systems has given its network engineer base a roadmap via the DevNet developer community. DevNet has also created a number of individual career certifications to provide validation of an engineer’s skill level. The great thing about this DevNet resource is that its content and community as a whole speaks to a wide range of engineer types. DevNet fundamentally recognizes that while not all network professionals are developers, the community encourages professionals to become more software-fluent, and DevNet provides the tools and resources to do that.
Cisco Introduces DevNet Specializations for Its Partners
But what about Cisco partners? More than 90% of Cisco’s business flows through the partner community. So how does a Cisco customer understand that a partner has done the necessary work to “skate to where the puck is going?”
For that, Cisco has created a DevNet Specialization to recognize partners for their software development expertise. The specialization validates that the partner has the people, processes, skills and real-world experience to lead customers through the entire software lifecycle of unlocking the value of software automation. Leveraging software enables companies to automate and integrate the running of the network and developing applications to increase productivity, eliminate human errors and optimize application performance.
There are two levels of the partner specialization. They are:
- DevNet Specialization, which covers the automation of infrastructure and application deployment within a single technology domain.
- Advanced DevNet Specialization, which includes the automation of multi-domain and application deployment.
Cisco Specialization Includes New Job Functions
The requirements for each level are similar but, as expected, the Advanced Specialization has stricter guidelines and requires a larger bench and number of people with software skills.
To qualify for the DevNet Specialization, the partner must have the following roles filled at his or her organization:
- The Software Strategy Lead is responsible for setting policies and direction for the practice, managing product development and timelines and engaging with the marketing and sales teams. This person ensures that the development team and solutions created are aligned with the business’ goals and vision of the company.
- A Software Practitioner to design, develop, maintain, test and evaluate effectiveness of computer software and improve software design/reuse.
- A Sales Strategy Lead is responsible for defining the go-to-market strategy and plans for software solutions and services. It is a customer-facing position tasked with delivering one unified vision of the engineering, strategic and market value of a software product to the customer.
- A Field Practitioner is a customer facing role which implements, configures, and customizes code for the customer.
The Advanced DevNet Specialization has the above roles plus a customer support person who owns the processes and procedures for technical support related to software programmability cases.
Looking into the near future, partners who carry this specialization will have a distinct advantage over those that do not. Technology is growing increasingly complex, and customers are looking for partners that can help them solve business problems and drive innovation though the automation of their infrastructure as well as the integration of systems. Cisco equipment is now loaded with APIs that make this easier and the DevNet Specialization validates and recognizes the partner has the necessary skills.
Partners who embrace programmability can build practices around innovation, which typically have much higher margins than traditional maintenance and break fix, which is rapidly becoming a commodity.
The world is changing, and Cisco has changed the way it builds and sells its products. They make look like the same hardware platforms, but they’re powered by software, the cloud and APIs. Now it’s time for the partner community to change along with it. Those who do will thrive; those who don’t will become irrelevant.
Zeus Kerravala is an eWEEK regular contributor and the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He spent 10 years at Yankee Group and prior to that held a number of corporate IT positions.