Cisco Start launches for SMBs in Australia

Cisco is leveraging its Webex portfolio and acquisitions of Meraki, BroadSoft, and OpenDNS to launch in the Australian and New Zealand SMB sector, Cisco ANZ vice president Ken Boal has told ZDNet.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Cisco ANZ VP Ken Boal

(Image: Cisco)

Cisco is eyeing off the small and medium-sized business (SMB) market in Australia and New Zealand, on Thursday announcing its launch of its Cisco Start portfolio following 18 months of trials down under.

Head of Distribution, Channels, and SMB Segment for Cisco ANZ Nykaj Nair said the networking giant's dedicated SMB portfolio is aimed at providing solutions across collaboration, mobile platforms, wireless offerings, hybrid cloud infrastructure, and cybersecurity capabilities.

"Cisco has invested in a purpose-built dedicated portfolio for small businesses called Cisco Start. Cisco Start allows small businesses to adopt enterprise-like technology or enterprise-class technology at affordable costs," Nair said.

"Enterprise-class technology that's reliable, that's simple, and that's secure. The way the portfolio is designed, it takes into account the scalability that a small business needs as they grow. So the platform grows as they grow, and we've built flexible consumption models for SMBs to alleviate any of the cash-flow concerns that small businesses usually have."

Speaking with ZDNet, Cisco ANZ vice president Ken Boal said Cisco's acquisitions of Meraki, OpenDNS, and BroadSoft enabled it to push into the SMB space.

"The most substance would be from Meraki; it's seen phenomenal growth because it essentially solves and addresses the simplicity task. Taking enterprise requirements, simplifying I guess the programmability for the small business and for home users -- and for large users, but especially for small business -- and being able to manage that out of the cloud," Boal told ZDNet.

Cisco has seen 40 to 50 percent growth in Meraki usage in Australia over the last 12 months, Boal said, adding that BroadSoft has also been "going gangbusters" throughout Australia and New Zealand. There were 2 million users on BroadSoft in Australia already, with more than 1 million on the Cisco side of it now.

"Our collaboration suite was really aimed at the midmarket and above, and we always looked at what BroadSoft were doing with the service providers and we just couldn't cut into that market," Boal told ZDNet.

"So when that acquisition went through, it really gave us a top to bottom view of the market and now we're able to go back to those BroadSoft customers with the service providers and upsell them additional Cisco collaboration and other Cisco technologies and capabilities as well, more sophisticated collaboration, more video, more conferencing, all integrated into the BroadSoft and the current user experience that BroadSoft are delivering."

OpenDNS, now called Umbrella, is lastly ensuring what Boal called "clean drinking water" for SMBs: Preventing users from accessing malicious, malware-filled sites when browsing online.

In addition to these acquisitions, Boal added that Cisco's own capabilities were well suited to entering the SMB market, with Spark -- now Webex -- products, including Webex Boards and Webex Teams, predominantly developed at Cisco, seeing high interest and take-up from SMBs.

"So it's not just the acquisition products, but it's also some of the really sexy development that we've had on collaboration, but also other parts of the portfolio," Boal told ZDNet.

According to Nair, Cisco has four routes of reaching SMB customers: Through telcos, service providers, and managed service providers; through system integrators and small resellers; through digital marketplaces including those from AWS and Telstra; and through alternate channels like retail.

Cisco has therefore been working with service providers and alternate channels to develop catalogues for them to bring to their existing customers to adopt "technology as a service" using Cisco solutions, and with resellers to train them on the technology.

On working with telcos, Boal told ZDNet that Cisco is at varying stages of talks with Australia's carriers.

"We're probably more advanced with some service providers in their small and medium business productisation and their catalogues than others; we've been advanced with Telstra for many years, but obviously technology moves on, so some of the platforms and technology we've had with Telstra to address small and medium business we're modernising," Boal told ZDNet.

"Telstra Air is a good example of Meraki, of wireless services, Wi-Fi services being offered through Telstra into small business, particularly retail, under that Telstra Air branding."

Cisco also has "some good work under way" with Optus on its Optus Go enterprise IT suite aimed at the higher-end SMBs, and said Cisco is "constantly working and talking with Vocus and the other key providers".

"We haven't done as much with Vodafone locally; there's been discussions but we're not as progressed with Voda," he added.

Lastly, Nair revealed that Cisco is piloting its own Cisco Start marketplace in Australia.

"It's a worldwide pilot in Australia," Nair told ZDNet.

"Right now it's in its first phase, we don't have a set time frame -- it's dependent on the learnings we get so that we can move to phase two. I would envisage another three to six months, but there are different iterations of it.

"We want to see how we can adopt that marketplace concept and build a partner storefront. So the pilot might evolve from being a Cisco marketplace to a partner marketplace pilot. There isn't a set time frame, however I envisage another six months."

Cisco has kept quiet on its 18-month move into the SMB market down under so that it could have some "tangible examples" when it announced its launch, Nair said. It now has 50,000 Australian customers and around 5,000 in New Zealand.

Boal said he was originally "sceptical" about whether Cisco's technology would be fit for purpose for the SMB sector, and about how big a material opportunity it could be for the global networking giant.

Since looking into it, however, Boal said the "commercial returns are already very compelling".

In the last 18 months, SMB has moved from making up 9 percent to 13 percent of its business, with expectations that it will continue growing by at least AU$50 million per annum.

Boal named retail, aged care, and education as some of the biggest SMB industries Cisco could play in, but told ZDNet that the next area Cisco is looking to play extensively in is farming and agriculture.

He said this will involve part of its Cisco Start portfolio and part of its Internet of Things (IoT) solutions being developed in its Sydney innovation centre.

"When you think about a farm, how do you network a farm because there's no mobile coverage out there, so how do you connect the sensors in a farm, how do you manage the data, how do you store it, secure it, share it amongst different applications, whether it's water management or weed management, or livestock management, so we're doing a lot of work and that's in our innovation centre in Sydney," Boal told ZDNet.

"We see agriculture more as an emerging networking opportunity, really. This is a tremendous IoT play. What we're trying to work out is the right elements of Cisco Start portfolio and the right IoT capabilities that are fit for purpose or that sort of form factor out in the wild.

"It needs to be cost effective as well for farmers to be able to access, so that's an emerging market that we're playing quite extensively in."

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