As the CRN Channel Awards gears up to celebrate its 25th birthday in November - we catch up with some of our judges - several of whom have been involved for multiple years since the judging process was introduced - to see what they enjoy about judging, what they least enjoy, and what they are expecting from entries this year.
Being a judge on the Channel Awards panel is a challenging task, with an immense amount of work ploughed into reading and scoring every entry.
As many will know, judging these awards is a two-staged process, with one panel of judges picking the shortlist, and another picking the winners.
It is a long process, and one which every judge has to commit hours and hours of their time to, and it is a task that cannot be taken lightly. These awards mean something to the industry and they mean something to those of us judging.
Some of the entries are far easier and more pleasant to read than others - and it is always plain to see those entries that have had a little time spent on them, rather than those that have been flung together at the last moment.
There is just over five weeks left to get an entry submitted for this year's awards - entries close at 5pm on Friday 13 July - and one thing the judges all agree on is that getting an entry done as early as possible and not rushing - is far more advisable than leaving it until the last minute.
Getting to know the judges
So what do some of our judges feel about the process and the standard of entry over the years? What are they looking forward to most and least?
Sandrijn Stead, CEO of C-View Technologies, has been judging for four years.
"I really enjoy the process and bi-directional engagement that we get to have with the competitors. I like to spend time reviewing the entries, so I will normally review over a couple of weekends with a cup of tea and biscuit to keep me going.
"What I enjoy is getting an honest ‘back room' view of how the different entrants are really doing. Even the best of the best will all be struggling in some way or have an overarching concern. I least enjoy reading documents that the person who authored it obviously just had to do rather than really giving a damn about what they write. To be fair that is quite rare."
Stead said that his best memories of the awards are actually seeing the impact that winning can have on a company and also the camaraderie it brings out in the rest of the room.
Looking to this year's entries, he said he has high hopes.
"I think the uncertainty around Brexit has started to slip away and VARs are now seen to provide a huge amount more value than they have in the past. In the distribution category we have seen so much consolidation over the past three years, that now the new organisations are bedded in, we can see what they are really made of. In the vendor class, many of the giants are changing for the better with cloud and subscription models changing business practices. The innovation around Blockchain and SaaS continues at such a rate, it is an amazing time for IT as a whole."
Paul Lloyd, managing director of Sellerly, is going into his second year of judging.
"Last year was my first year and I found it very interesting and enjoyable," he said. "The good entries were interesting to read and get a feel for the business from. This was especially enjoyable when they were a new company or up-and-coming. The least enjoyable was the companies that had entered but with no effort, or had just duplicated the same entry for a number of categories."
Looking ahead, Lloyd said he is expecting more videos this year, but is also secretly hoping for a greater volume of ‘good' entries from companies that have perhaps never entered before.
Judging veteran Carl West, client success director at GfK and leader of the distribution panel for the awards, has been part of the panel for eight years.
His highlights are reading all the news from the industry in the entries and meeting old and new judges and also watching the development of companies over the years.
"I least enjoy all the criticism of the judging and questions about whether it is based on sponsorship or advertising," he said. But he felt quality of entries is on the up. "Presentation has improved, the quality gets better each time, the serious nature in which the entries are prepped and the increasing use of data are particular highlights," he said. "This year I expect to see big business battling again, but also more innovation and further improvements in quality."
Taking the plunge
Steve Cox, vice president of customer support at Vertafone, is in his third year of judging.
He agreed with Stead over what he enjoys most and least.
"I enjoy reading the entries and getting a great insight into what is going on in the channel, but I least enjoy reading entries where people have just gone through the motions to tick the boxes and not made a real effort."
This year he said he was hoping to see high quality, well thought out entries that demonstrate a lot of growth in the channel.
Channel veteran Eddie Pacey has been involved in the judging for over 10 years.
"I enjoy seeing the effort, innovation and creativity of entries," he said. "But I least enjoy the dull, lifeless entries that still seem to be around."
He said one of his happiest memories was winning the ‘Channel Personality of the Year' award in 2004, along with the varies wins by Ideal Hardware and Bell Micro.
"This year I am hoping for more entries from really capable and successful businesses that historically have never participated. It has been a pleasure these last few years to see so many new, recognised or successful resellers taking the plunge and entering," he said.
Another seasoned judge is Simon Meredith, managing director of Meredith Media Services and leader of the Reseller judging panel for the awards.
"As a former editor to the forerunner to CRN, PC Dealer, I have been involved in the awards right from the start in one capacity or another," he said. "At times it is a little bit like going out for a run - it sounds like a good idea at the time, then when you are actually doing it you ask why you are putting yourself through it? But afterwards you feel a sense of accomplishment. It is always worthwhile."
Meredith said he enjoys reading and hearing about the stories of reseller businesses.
"It can be quite inspiring and restorative," he said. "Finding time to go through all the entries and do them equal justice is the biggest challenge each year. I know all the judges work hard to do that."
This year he said he hoped to see entries that demonstrate the real passion that leaders and teams have for their business, and ones that can show how they have made a difference for customers.
Standing out from the crowd
Bruce Hockin, partner development director at Cloud Distribution, is entering his sixth year as a judge, and still enjoys the process.
"I most enjoy meeting the people presenting for vendor of the year, finding out about some really good success stories in the submissions and catching up with the other judges," he said. "I least enjoy it when someone submits an entry with no figures to back up statements, no references and talks product all through the entry, then expects to win!"
When asked what he was expecting this year, Hockin's reply was typically tongue-in-cheek.
"I'm hoping that we see a bit more effort, with people reading the guidelines and acting on the advice offered. My expectation is that we will see great Channel Service Provider and Security Vendor submissions, we always do, and that at least one vendor submission is at least 200 words over the limit with no figures, in one great big hulking chunk of text, starting with the line: ‘We absolutely deserve to win because…….'"
Antony Young, channel development and market intelligence specialist and co-founder of IQBlade, has been taking it in turns to judge with colleague Ben Abraham for the past six years.
"It gives us a great opportunity to understand which companies are developing/growing and it is great to see the UK tech market evolving," he said.
Young talked up the importance of making entries easy and enjoyable to read. "My least favourite part is reading dozens of bland entries," he said. "I need to be extremely self-conscious of losing concentration so I give every entry a fair chance. My favourite parts are the face-to-face pitches for ‘big' awards. It is surprising how often the order changes when you hear the story straight from the horse's mouth."
He said he expects the number of video entries to increase this year, but stressed the importance of maintaining quality and also keeping to the allotted time.
Bob Tarzey, IT industry analyst, who heads up the vendor panel, has also been involved in the judging for many years - over 15 in fact.
"Judging helps me keep up to speed with what is going on in the channel and with the vendors. Judging days are enjoyable as we debate the merits of the various entries," he said.
Looking ahead, Tarzey said the wheat is always separated from the chaff.
"The most important criteria for being shortlisted and winning an award is the entry itself," he explained. "A rubbish entry, even from a highly respected channel organisation or vendor will never make the cut. So, don't waste your time unless you are prepared to put the effort in."
And that is the perfect note to end. Writing an award entry takes time and effort, and all the judges really appreciate the work that goes into creating them.
Best of luck!
Part two of this feature will look at the judges' thoughts on how the entries have improved and what they say to those that cry ‘fix!' every year.