Strengthen Your Ties

Dreaming of the partner ecosystem? Skyline Computer has brought it down from the clouds.

Many integrators have heard Cisco Systems "partner ecosystem" message. Now Skyline Computer Corp. is actually entangled in it.

Campbell, Calif.-based company sells much of its network training and consulting services through a web of partnerships—mostly with other Cisco specialists like itself. Skyline is a Cisco Learning Solutions Partner, a Silver Professional Services Partner and a Value-added Remarketer.

Mike Zanotto, managing director of Skyline, doesnt use the ecosystem metaphor, but refers to his company as a "partner for the partners." More than half of the companys training and consulting business is done through allies (the companys hardware business is direct).

Zanotto says Skyline might make half the margin on partner-driven deals that it would make going solo. But the practice, he adds, has important compensating virtues. For one, partnering makes the sales process a lot easier.

"It expands the sales force," explains Zanotto, who notes that recruiting good salespeople is even more difficult than finding good technologists. He believes "order takers" far outnumber proactive sales consultants who are capable of handling complex solution sales.

"Sales has always been the most difficult thing," Zanotto says. "A lot of that burden is taken away when you have another company selling your services."

In training, for example, Skyline teams with such Cisco partners as Forsythe Solutions, a Chicago-based integrator, and MasterLink, a network infrastructure company in Wisconsin. Those companies resell Skylines Cisco training services to their customers.

And while some of Skylines services overlap with what Forsythe and MasterLink offer, competition is not an issue. "If we did a deal behind their backs, we would be out of business," Zanotto states firmly.

In addition to formal reseller arrangements, Skyline also engages in more ad hoc partner- ing initiatives. In these deals, Skyline provides technical staffers to partners for three or four weeks at a time. In terms of skill sets, Zanotto cites such areas as IP telephony, SNA-to-IP integration, and content switching.

Such alliances open doors for Skyline, helping the company build a sales pipeline much faster than it could working alone. "We could spend six months getting into an account," Zanotto says.

Partnering also has accelerated Skylines transition into services. Three years ago, the company was primarily a box pusher. But the competition in the Cisco space was such that the company determined that it couldnt thrive on just price and delivery.

Accordingly, Skyline pushed into value-added services, and today about a third of its business is service-related.

The service segue propelled Skylines revenue from $10 million in 1997 to $35 million in 2000. Partnering made the surge possible. "Its a realization that we have to work with people, instead of trying to do everything ourselves," says Zanotto.

It is also evidence that Ciscos ecosystem vision is more than a pipe dream.