As a preface to this post, our lawyer suggested I point out that the views expressed in my blog posts represent my own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views or official standing of IPexpert as a company or of our staff, partners or others. :) With that said…
Last week, Cisco officially threw their hat in the CCIE lab training ring with the announcement of their “360 Learning Program.” This announcement came as no surprise to the leading CCIE-focused training companies.
Back in early 2007, Cisco began approaching established and successful (and some not-so-successful) CCIE training vendors on the market. They cast the net far and wide, asking known vendors around the globe to bid for the “opportunity” to have their courseware purchased then be re-branded as Cisco’s own curriculum. While that may be the ideal model for municipalities seeking a contractor to mow the lawn in city-owned parks, I was gravely concerned by what the apparent determining factors would be when selecting the “winner” that would advance a CCIE training initiative.
When they approached IPexpert, they expounded on the benefits that would come from a “Cisco-controlled” CCIE training program that centralized and streamlined the training options available on the open market. Initially, the program caught our attention. But after a few face-to-face meetings and many conference calls, our interest faded. That said, I still hoped Cisco would move forward with their program, believing it could be a potential benefit to IPexpert in various possible ways, whether it succeeded or failed.
I should note that, at the time, IPexpert was a Cisco Learning Partner (CLP), which was a dreadful experience that I’ll blog about in a future post. For now, the point is that “only Learning Partners” were allowed to bid on this opportunity, though it became well-known that outsiders were sneaking in through back-door channels.
Throughout the bidding process and well after, we heard more and more about Cisco’s vision of a program where CCIE-focused companies would create the content and other aspects of the proposed solution. At one point, it was suggested that the vendors work together adding bits and pieces to the program, which sounds nice, but is not based in reality. While there are examples to leading vendors partnering with one company or another, it seemed unlikely that such collaboration would take off in a model that provided so little incentive to do so.
In my view, the opportunity as pitched by Cisco boiled down to this:
- We’ll will take your materials that you created (likely of the course of several years and untold investment), then slap a Cisco logo on it.
- Then, we’ll slap the Cisco logos on what was your material and allow your direct competitors to sell it.
- Since we only have a relatively small number of racks to make available for CCIE candidates, we’ll take control of the racks you have purchased and created custom GUIs for, so they can be tied into our tracking and scheduling systems.
- We’d like you to fly your instructors across the country to teach other would-be CCIE instructors how to do what they do… for your competitors.
As you can imagine, this opportunity became less and less an opportunity for the “core” group of vendors that have a vested interest in protecting their brand and investments… except for NetMasterClass. Let me say clearly that I really like Bruce and Val at NMC. They are very nice guys and I won’t question or speculate on their motives. As the leaders of our companies, we all have decisions to make and live with. Only time will tell which decisions are the right or wrong ones.
So, here we are with the 360 / NetMasterClass offering being made official. During Cisco’s presentation last week, I found it interesting they avoided the topic of how much the training would cost engineers. They talked about costs for the other topics covered in the presentation, including lab exam costs, but forgot to detail the 360 program prices and what you get for each cost level. Their “Top 10 questions” page vaguely references $5,000-$20,000 and NMC’s menu presents a confusing list of options, so that might be why they didn’t try to explain it during the presentation.
NOTE: In the follow-up post to come this week, we will examine each component of the 360 offering. For now, I’ll just express my amazement of how much more expensive NMC’s products got when their logo was traded for Cisco’s.
Also, during the presentation, it was pointed out that Cisco’s desire for the program was to “teach experts” and not to “teach the tests.” Jeff Rensink, author of the CCIE Trek blog, really slammed this point on a recent blog post asking, “is Cisco saying that their test doesn’t adequately determine if someone is an expert.” Great observation, Jeff!!!
I think the truth is that it might just be another “right thing to say” catchphrase. During the past year, while Cisco was encouraging IPexpert’s involvement in the program, there was great emphasis on the tracking system that would be monitored to gauge which vendor is able to crank out the most number of CCIE successes.
Let us remember that Cisco’s learning programs are now aligned under its Customer Advocacy division, making it a profit center. It’s not all about the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from teaching people to be experts. Why else would Cisco insist on calling IPexpert’s CCIE training products and courses “derivative works” even though they had no CCIE training to “derive” other works from? (Because Cisco collects royalty payments for companies selling “derivative works.”)
So, what do I see in the cards for this new program? I know it’s risky for me to put predictions out there, but this is just some conversation among friends, right?
PREDICTION 1: Problems for the Learning @ Cisco team
Frankly, I don’t think the “Learning @ Cisco” team at Cisco really understands that the CCIE certification is a totally different beast – different than any other class or certification that Cisco currently supports (CCNA, for example). Cisco’s model is for much of their content to be created by third-party vendors / developers. This content is then formatted per Cisco’s standard template and thrown into a 3-ring binder, then made available as a “kit.” When “ACME Computer Training” wants to teach that class – they call their CLSP and order the content.
The top existing CCIE training vendors have set a standard for keeping their courseware extremely up-to-date. At IPexpert, we do not inventory ANY courseware. It is all printed on-demand and shipped to the classroom the week prior to each course. Why? Because our instructors make refinements / additions / changes to the course materials between almost EVERY course. That way, students are always learning from materials that reflect the most current thinking, best practices and most effective content.
How up-to-date will the 360 materials be maintained? If they are able to keep innovating and improving the offering, who will do it and how will all these cookie-cutter entities get trained up on the changes and understand what the instructor that made the changes had in mind? Will past students automatically get access to revisions? How?
PREDICTION 2: Problems for the Learning Partners attempting to deliver the training
Most Learning Partners (those that focus on the lower-level Cisco certifications) are used to delivering classroom training. It will be interesting to see how they make the shift toward a blended learning model that emphasizes self-study learning as a part of one’s preparation path. How will they market the “off-the-shelf” (NMC) books in a way that differentiates them from their competitors, especially when they had no role in creating the product and can’t really identify with it.
Once they sell some books to a student, whose racks will their student use to practice hands-on? What will be available to them and when? At what cost?
PREDICTION 3: Problems for the CCIE candidates / students
For reasons that could include the points in my first two predictions, the 360 program may well prove to be a “sub par” offering. Wouldn’t that be ironic after Cisco described current third-party Boot Camps that way? ;)
If that comes true, it will be the individuals – the CCIE candidates – that would have suffered the most. Probably the most affected will be Cisco employees, whom I suspect are going to be strong-armed into using the “official” training. Pride and corporate policy will keep Cisco from throwing in the towel for a while – long after a great many have over-paid for under-delivered programs.
What Your Peers Think: Some popular bloggers have chimed in on the issue
- CCIEguru quips, “Cisco should do a 360 and re-do its 360.”
- Arden Packeer’s in-depth analysis concludes, “I think I’ll stick to the third party vendors for my CCIE material.”
- CCIE Journey points out that “the courses start out at $5000 and can get up to $20,000. Which to me seems high when you have Internetwork Expert, Narbik, IPexpert and the others out there that deliver high value material at a fraction of that cost.”
- Greg Ferro at EtherealMind predicts, “the number of companies offering CCIE training to increase rapidly as they will think this is an opportunity to grow by adding CCIE to their existing CCNP/NA/SP/DP offerings and increase revenue. Of course it won’t be and they will exit the business by the end of next year.”
- CiscoFerret worries about the 360 program moving to “spoon feed candidates” to satisfy Cisco’s commercial desire to “have a higher pass rate than the competition.”
- CCIEpursuit correctly describes the material as “a rebranded version” of the NetMasterClass training
What do you think? Post your comments here and let’s talk it out.
Also, watch for Part 2 of “My View” this week, as well as more off-shoots from this topic in other blog posts soon to come!My View of the Cisco 360 Learning Program – PART 1,