Defining the Co-Creation Triangle with Cisco and DevNet

CISCO

When I first meet a customer, I don’t walk in with a solution. In most cases, I don’t know what the customer wants, and neither do they. Often, they will start by expressing a need, outlining a problem, or suggesting a product they’d like to deploy, but even then, I prefer to go in with a blank slate. IT solutions are complex, and the most apparent fix is not always the right one.


I’ve been in IT for 20 years. I started as a network engineer at Nokia in 2000 and have been working as a managing director at BlueTree since 2014. We became a Cisco partner in 2016, and after three short years in the program, Cisco named BlueTree the 2019 Ecosystem Partner of the Year for the EMEAR North region and invited us to Cisco Partner Summit in Las Vegas. Let me tell you, it’s been quite the ride. 

The Co-Creation Triangle

Many resellers focus on the bottom line and compete by discounting hardware, but we knew we couldn’t catch up with market leaders by just selling firewalls, switches, and routers. BlueTree came late to the Cisco partnership game, and so we decided to do things differently. 


As the new kid on the block, we decided to map our customers’ business processes, align our infrastructure solutions with their business goals, and then loop Cisco into the process. I like to think of this approach as the co-creation triangle. We don’t impose a solution on our customers, but work with them and Cisco together to jointly develop a product that leverages all of our strengths. 

The best partners don’t impose a solution on customers, but work together to jointly develop solutions that leverages everyone’s strengths.


In some ways, we are like a startup in that we’re very agile. After meeting with a client, we focus on building a minimum viable product (MVP) or proof of concept (POC) that gives a clear picture of our proposed solution. I’m not talking about mapping hardware; we know how to build infrastructure and can do that with our eyes closed. I’m talking about the actual interface that our customers will use to interact with their system. We employ front-end and back-end developers, engineers, and data scientists who can write algorithms that empower our customers to extract meaningful insights from their data. 


BlueTree doesn’t just sell hardware and software. Instead, we provide turnkey solutions that respond to the use cases we have analyzed during the research phase of every project.

Simplifying Solutions for Customers

BlueTree works with verticals in heavy industries like construction and metallurgy. Few of our customers (if any) are in IT. Most of them don’t speak our technical language, so we focus on their pain points, even when talking to their internal IT people. We find the gap between their infrastructure and their business, and then craft a solution that meets their needs. 


From the start of our Cisco partnership, we’ve maintained control of our intellectual property. When we write custom code for one of our customers, we don’t hand over exclusive rights. This way, we can reuse it as necessary for a future project. For example, if we create a script for an aluminum smelter, we can use it for another aluminum plant or retool it for a steel mill. Taking this approach is one of the ways we’re able to keep costs down for our customers without having to discount our wares. 


A couple of years ago, we built a solution for a customer with two industrial production sites, three data centers, and more than 200 locations. They had an existing network in place, but their engineering team kept adding heavy machinery at the manufacturing plants and the IT team didn’t know how to map—let alone secure or integrate—this new equipment. 


It was a complex project. The customer was integrating analytics tools and IoT technology at their production facilities. They were running machine-learning algorithms and sending data to and from the cloud. We needed to segment their factories and to extend these segments to their data centers and the cloud. We also needed to implement a quality-of-service feature that prioritized critical traffic and gave their corporate office access to their plants’ OT networks.


We created a network provisioning solution using Cisco DNA Center, Cisco SD-WAN, Identity Services Engine (ISE), and Cisco Meraki. We built the front end and back end using code we found on Cisco DevNet, the company’s developer program. We then put together a visual interface which allowed them to easily drag and drop routers and switches into place, and to configure them with a single click. Today, UpStacked is available for customers and partners to use.

Customers want a secure and stable system that helps to power their business.


Customers need a secure and stable system that helps to power their business. It was cost-effective and easy to use, and it hid all the complexity from the customer. Sure, the customer wants to know about their network architecture and their provisioning platform, but at the end of the day, security and stability is critical. 

DevNet It!

We have become a full-blown Cisco shop and have been rolling out a wide range of advanced solutions based on the company’s products for the last four years. One of my favorite Cisco platforms is ACI (Application Centric Infrastructure). We use it to create software-defined data centers, and I love what it can do—but it can be tough for some customers to use. 


We wrote a series of scripts to simplify its deployment and its management. To accomplish this, we used an approach called Network as Code. It is a way of eliminating human error caused by nature architecture and follow DevOps best-practice to better control infrastructure changes. On top of using it internally, we also offer it as a service to customers. 


We use Cisco APIs to program these scripts, and the best way to build them is by using the collective expertise of the DevNet community. DevNet helps developers write applications and create integrations with Cisco products and platforms, and provides APIs, SDKs, and a user community where developers can share their wisdom and their code. 


DevNet is an everyday tool at BlueTree and has practically become a verb. We don’t Google stuff anymore; we DevNet it! This incredible resource provides a code repository, documentation, and forums that allow us to leverage the wisdom of an international community of developers. If we have a question, we can ask our peers on DevNet, and we can also respond to their queries. It’s our way of giving back. 


When Cisco launched DevNet certification in February of this year, a group of us took the exam on the first day and as soon as the test center opened, and so we became part of the DevNet 500. That put us among the first 500 people in the world to be DevNet-certified in our respective fields. Some might say we’re obsessed, but I’d counter that we’re inspired. 

Infrastructure Is Not Your Destination

DevNet truly connects us to Cisco. We are in regular touch with their systems engineers, and information flows both ways. I believe we give as much as we take, and that our expertise helps the company make better products. I am also proud to help other Cisco partners improve their services by sharing our code. 


DevNet is a core component of our co-creation triangle. Cisco provides the platform and the wider community, BlueTree provides the expertise, and our customers provide the vision. Together, we create winning conditions for every member in this partnership without resorting to cheap tricks. We never overpromise or underdeliver. Instead, we deploy laser-focused solutions that resolve specific issues and respond to precise business cases. 

Infrastructure is your point of departure, not your destination.


Infrastructure is your point of departure, not your destination. If you want to find working solutions that add value to hardware and software, you need to treat your vendors and customers as partners. Co-creation is the key to successful partnerships, and if there’s one company that excels at being a partner instead of another vendor, it’s Cisco.