Cisco Enhances E-Commerce Offerings

Cisco Enhances E-Commerce Offerings

Paul Cantwell

By Lisa Terry, Contributing Writer

System integrators in search of Cisco Systems Inc.'s products can compare and configure networking equipment, ensure that the products they need are in stock and place orders using the networking manufacturer's new Networking Products Marketplace for Resellers.

The program, launched Nov. 15, upgrades the e-commerce offerings of the San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant by adding links to its three authorized distributors, Comstor, Ingram Micro and Tech Data. The links allow inventory checks and order placement.

"Availability of product is probably equally important as anything else," said Paul Cantwell, director of federal government channels for Cisco. "If you can see the immediate availability [of the product], it expands your capability to fulfill the requirements of the customer."

Under the program, system integrators can select Cisco products by feature, part number or product type to get detailed information, and then click on desired features to access corresponding company products. A product comparison tool displays up to four comparable products side by side to enable the user to view features, specifications and prices for each.

The site's configuration tool is designed to reduce ordering errors.

"Cisco products have a lot of matrices built in that require compliance. We use it at quotation time to make sure our quotations are correct and configured properly," said Paul Collins, executive vice president for ITC Inc., a government systems integrator in Fairfax, Va.

The added ability to follow through with access to inventory aids in accuracy and completeness with customers and helps avoid errors and delays, he said.

"A lot of times, Cisco products require coordination of installation, so we are able to give more accurate information to customers and our own engineering teams," Collins said.

The solution "helps eliminate mistakes and makes sure it's not a multistep process to configure products, find out information and order," Cantwell said. "Connecting to distributors as far as availability is the key that ties this all together."

Once the selected products' configurations are verified, the reseller can add the item to a shopping list that can be saved, copied and downloaded to other formats for quotes or approvals.

An application designed by Comergent enables the reseller to then submit the order. Separate orders must be created for each distributor.

A value-added reseller council comprising about 25 partners consulted on Networking Products Marketplace for Resellers through its development.

U.S.-based government systems integrators must first contact Cisco Federal to set up an account, and then access the site through either Cisco's or distributors' Web site. Canadian and European resellers will be able to access NPMR in early 2000.

The upgrade is consistent with the $12.2 billion networking leader's track record in "practicing what they preach" when it comes to e-commerce, said ITC's Collins. "They're probably as far forward on this as any company I've ever seen," he said.

"I've never seen the capability to take it from [a configuration tool] to being able to click a button and send the data to a distributor," said Lawrence Orans, senior analyst with the GartnerGroup, Stamford, Conn. "I think that's a sophisticated enhancement. It eliminates the potential for human error as the transaction is shuttled from the configuration to the ordering stage. It doesn't surprise me, since not only in this space, but in the whole e-commerce space, Cisco has been a leader."

Sales growth for Cisco's federal division has tracked that of the company as a whole at 43 percent for 1999, a pace the company expects to continue.

The growth reflects Cisco's efforts to entice more resellers into the government market with such incentives as special pricing and programs, Cantwell said.

"We've probably seen a three-fold increase in bringing in particular small resellers into the market" over the last year, he said. "It used to be fairly complicated; the barriers to get into this market were fairly high. The [Clinton] administration has done a lot to break those down."

Close to 900 resellers sell Cisco products in the federal marketplace, with about 10 percent of those purchasing product directly from the manufacturer.

The remaining 90 percent buy through distribution.

Direct resellers must be certified on Cisco equipment and are usually solutions-focused rather than product-focused, Cantwell said.

"All of Cisco's business in this market is sold through partners," he said. "We get a lot more feet on the street and can raise the level of customer satisfaction by combining Cisco's and partners' resources to solve problems and service the customer."

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