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Working with Multiple Channel Partners

Guest Post by Contributing Author Ken Presti

It doesn’t happen every day, but every now and then, small businesses find themselves working with more than one channel partner at the same time. At first glance, this might not appear to be a big deal, but whenever you’ve got two people, or two groups, or two companies working so closely, things can easily get a little gummed up. Often there are battles (or, perhaps, cold wars) over control, access, control, responsibility, and control.

Did I mention control? When things are going right, everybody wants to demonstrate that they have it. When things are going wrong, control is something that has always been in the other camp.

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How to Find the Right Support Community

February 17, 2011 at 2:51 pm PST

A vendor-sponsored community provides the inside track for more than just problem resolution

Where do you go when you need to find information about a product or a technology? Of course, the Internet is teeming with technology websites and forums, but not all of them are particularly useful or even accurate. When a router or switch goes down or you can’t find a critical file in your storage system, you need an answer—fast. Online support forums and communities often have the exact information you need to fix your tech problem. There are two different types of support communities you can turn to—those sponsored by a vendor (discussions focused around a product, i.e. WAP4410N access point) or those hosted by an independent third party. (discussions focused around a technology, i.e. wireless LAN)  Each has its benefits, but you’re likely to find the best insider info on a vendor’s support community.

Third-party support communities are a fine source of general technology information, such as when you’re researching a particular product category or learning how a particular technology works. You’re likely to find good information from fellow users and possibly experts who have hands-on experience with the technology. You may also find guidance that helps you determine if a technology is a good fit for your small business. But if you need product expertise to solve a tricky problem, you should look for it in a support community that is monitored by a vendor.

A vendor-sponsored support community is rich with helpful information about the products you’re using. The community is also populated by people who can help you with your specific technical issue, including peers  who’ve worked through similar issues as well as the vendor’s product managers and engineers who know the products inside and out. For example, Cisco’s Small Business Support Community exists to help Cisco small business partners and customers solve technical problems, and Cisco engineers spend a lot of time answering their questions and participating in discussions. Chances are good that the fix for your problem already exists in the community because someone there has experienced your particular problem before and knows how to resolve it.

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An IP Voice System Can Save You Money and Grow With Your Business

IP-based phone systems offer better convenience and expandability versus traditional PBX

Small businesses have so many more options now when it comes to business technologies, many of which have evolved to meet the specific needs of smaller companies. Even Voice over IP (VoIP) phone systems are now well within reach for companies that are looking for enterprise features on a small business budget. An IP-based voice system provides a business-class phone solution that is more affordable, convenient, and expandable than a traditional PBX phone system.

According to research from AMI Partners, small and medium-sized businesses in the U.S. will step up their adoption of VoIP solutions in 2011, including IP PBX systems. AMI states, ”Over 30 percent of small businesses (1 -- 99 employees) and 50 percent of medium businesses (100-999 employees) say that VoIP will become critical to their business operations.” AMI also found that smaller companies are choosing VoIP systems for advanced IP features as well as for cost savings.

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Reading Partner Contracts

Guest Post by Contributing Author Ken Presti

Okay, so you’ve shopped around, evaluated partners, evaluated solutions, and checked out the technology vendors. You think you’ve found what you’re looking for, and now it’s time to do the paperwork. Your expectations of what comes next should be largely dependent on the types of services to be rendered.

On one level, we can segment the contracts into two basic categories: The first category would be contracts to enhance and expand your IT infrastructure; the second category would be contracts to keep your IT infrastructure up and running. Of course, the two are often combined into a unified contract, most often in situations where the IT capabilities are being expanded, and it just makes sense to add the back-end maintenance piece. Sometimes maintenance will be managed through some sort of master agreement that also puts in place most of the primary terms and conditions for any subsequent additional projects that could then be commissioned with relatively simple paperwork.

Some of the key points to consider when reviewing any of these contracts would include the following:

Does the contract adequately describe the services to be rendered? In projects for network upgrades, you’ll definitely need to see a pretty formidable task list. Should the contract include training your people to operate the new gear? That answer will depend on the nature of the upgrade, but it’s something to think about. In maintenance contracts, individual tasks can be a lot more difficult to specify. The main objective is that they will address issues as they occur.

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The Help You Need—When You Need It

February 9, 2011 at 10:05 am PST

The Small Business Support Community puts experts at your fingertips to provide assistance and resolve problems

As a small business owner, you rely on the technology that runs your business. Time is money and you can’t afford to lose either because a switch, storage device, or security appliance that’s critical to your business is down. You need help, and fast, to get your business up and running again – one way is to turn to an online support community.

Similarly, you wouldn’t consult a single source for a technology recommendation if, for example, your company needed a wireless guest access solution. You want input and experiences from multiple sources so you can make the right choice for your business.

The tech community has a long history of leveraging advice and help from their peers. Online bulletin boards and chat rooms have provided support and solutions for more than 10 years. Fast forward to 2011 where advances in web and social media technologies have enhanced the possibilities of these tools. Now, you can poll your peers, independent experts, and even company product managers to get assistance and find information.

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