If this year's award winners could have made acceptance speeches, they would doubtless have talked about how honoured they were to win an award, voted for by the channel, in such a tough year for the market.
And it has been tough; there is no escaping that fact. That is perhaps why, this year more than ever, it was with a real end-of-season party mood - and sheer relief that they had survived to attend another ceremony - that over 1,000 representatives of vendors, distributors, resellers, IT media and other organisations descended on Battersea Park for the 2002 Channel Awards.
There were few surprises, but this year more focus than ever was placed on the achievement of resellers as well as those that supply them.
There were four reseller awards and the winners - Teksys, Objective Computing, Equanet and Prime Business Solutions - collected their awards with delight.
All four have set excellent examples, but it should not be forgotten that these awards can only ever highlight the achievement of a few VARs out of the thousands delivering solutions to customers every day. The winners can be justly proud of their achievements, but so can many more.
Cathryn Fox, managing director of Objective Computing, which won the SME Reseller of the Year award, said: "We're really proud. It is a real boost to everyone to have our efforts with our SME clients recognised.
"This fantastic endorsement of our quality of service to SME clients can only help us build our business in the UK's most vibrant sector."
This is the first year that an award has been presented to an SME reseller, and all seven of the nominated companies have achieved a great deal.
Most are engaged either with the Department of Trade and Industry's Technology Means Business programme or with Hewlett Packard's (HP's) Centres of Excellence scheme, as well as other channel initiatives. The competition next year will be intense.
Fox said that Objective certainly intends to be in the running next year. "To win in 2003 just believe in what you're doing, believe in the power of the SME to overtake, and do what you can to make their journey easy but productive," she said.
"Our aim now is to improve on what we have done this past year and improve on how we are doing it. Then hopefully we will win again next year."
Corporate Reseller of the Year Teksys was equally pleased to collect its award. Shaun Frohlich, the firm's chairman, said that, while employees had been excited to be short-listed, they were "nothing short of ecstatic" at winning the award.
He believes it will make a real difference to the business. "It will mean increased confidence on all fronts. Our people have taken the news as a shot in the arm," he explained.
"They were confident before, but are even more so now with this industry endorsement. It will also help increase our clients' confidence in us as they search for differentiators in a marketplace full of 'me too' suppliers."
Last year's top corporate reseller, Equanet, walked away with the CRN/Syscap Approved Technology Innovator of the Year award for the private sector, for the development of its online DataFarm system.
Abdul Terry, Equanet's marketing manager, said the award will give the company's sales a further boost. "The award is providing added weight for DataFarm and Equanet in general," he said. "In addition, it is proving a great conversation piece with new and existing customers, who are calling in about it."
The Innovator of the Year award for the public sector went to Prime Business Solutions for its work in delivering a virtual courtroom system to the Royal Courts of Justice.
The company's marketing manager, Nathan Marke, explained that the award was timely for Prime, because it highlights its key areas for the next year.
"Our focus is on the public sector, and we believe that IP video is going to be a boom technology in 2003," he said.
"Integrators working in the public sector have historically been viewed as deploying middle-of-the-road technologies to organisations that are highly cautious of innovation.
"However, times are changing and some of the most exciting projects are being implemented in the public sector. Our video project at the Royal Courts is a good example."
There are monthly Innovator awards throughout the year, and each of the monthly winners is considered for the annual awards.
All resellers need to do to enter is post details of innovative projects on the Technology Innovator website here. Details of next year's awards programme will be announced soon.
The vendor and distributor awards were dominated by HP and Computer 2000 (C2000), but in the distribution sector, Ingram Micro, Ideal Hardware, CMS Peripherals and Unipalm had their efforts recognised with awards as well.
David Ellis, director of e-security at Unipalm, said that receiving a Channel Award showed that the distributor's customers are happy that it is achieving its objectives.
"We feel that our customers will respond very positively to us winning the award; this is a very high-profile accolade," he said. "But we need to raise the bar again to win it next year."
Other winners were also determined to mount an even better challenge in 2003. Ian French, president of Ideal's parent company, Bell Microproducts Europe, said: "Naturally we were delighted to win Storage Distributor of the Year for the fourth year running, and would like to congratulate VNU on a well-organised event.
"Congratulations also to C2000 on winning Software Distributor of the Year. I hope they enjoy this, because they will have tougher competition next year.
"Ideal has this year doubled its software business, rolled out a unique online licensing tool across several European countries and is Microsoft's number-one UK distributor."
C2000 scooped a total of six distribution awards, including the main Business Distributor of the Year accolade, which it won for the fourth year in succession.
Julian Klein, managing director of the company, explained that he is proud of the achievements, but added that he was well aware that rivals would dearly love to take its crown next year.
"Despite some very challenging market conditions, we have continued to deliver a great service to our customers by focusing on the right areas and on the activities that make a real difference to our resellers," he said.
"We have made great strides this year in e-business, in the SME market, in networking and in asset management. To win six awards is a tremendous achievement.
"I think it sends a clear message from our customers that we are getting the important things right, and we thank them for their continued support.
"It also bears testament to the dedication and hard work of every single one of our employees. Every one of them is a winner."
The awards, however, are not for just the winners. Close to 50 companies either received nominations or won awards this year, and simply being nominated helps to heighten the profile of channel players.
Bal Phull, marketing communications manager at D-Link UK, said: "The awards themselves highlight the efforts of a variety of companies in different areas.
"For D-Link to be nominated again for the third consecutive year was very pleasing, and represents recognition of our efforts in launching new wireless products and working closely with the channel."
It was HP that stole the limelight in the vendor categories, scooping all three of the vendor awards voted for by resellers.
And while he acknowledged that the merger of HP and Compaq had probably helped the company to its near clean sweep, Dave Poskett, IPG commercial sales director at the company, said that its triumph was deserved.
"We are really pleased to get all three awards but I think we have done a good job in communicating with the channel. I think that the whole company has recognised how important the channel is to our success," he said.
"We now need to work with them to understand the dynamics of the market and how things are changing so we can continue to help them to be profitable and successful.
"Our biggest responsibility now is to share all the knowledge that we have in all parts of our business and get even closer to the channel."
HP did not take all the vendor honours, however. NetScreen won the Outstanding Product award for its 5000 Series, which has undoubtedly ruffled a few feathers in the important security sector, and Fujitsu Siemens Computers (FSC) was named Editor's Choice.
Ian Snadden, director of SME and channel sales at FSC, said the award was particularly gratifying for the company's hard working channel and marketing teams.
"Our strong channel performance has already been a key factor in the company's impressive UK growth, with first-half revenues up by almost 30 per cent over the same period last year," he said.
"We have already had a lot of comments from resellers, end users and our tier-one peers, and it has been great to be recognised for a job well done."
But with HP now the dominating presence in the systems market, a lot more must be done over the coming year, according to Snadden.
"We are going to try even harder. We are obviously pleased with our progress so far, but for 2003 we will be looking to develop even stronger propositions for our channel partners," he explained.
"We've got exciting developments in mobility with our Pocket LOOX personal digital assistant and Tablet PC products, and we are continuing to grow our server revenue through the channel. So watch this space."
Competition among vendors for the attentions of the channel will be most welcome, as will new and innovative products to drive sales.
NetScreen has been successful with the 5000 Series because the firm left behind pre-conceptions and got its channel right, said Peter Crowcombe, marketing manager for EMEA at NetScreen.
"We started with a clean sheet of paper and built it the way we wanted it. With the strength of the product, all the other things tend to fall into place, but we have also spent an awful lot of time and effort on the channel, and that has made a difference," he said.
- The Awards recognised achievements of SME resellers for the first time, as well as those delivering innovative solutions, encouraging even greater efforts next year.
- Hewlett Packard claimed three vendor awards, Fujitsu Siemens won the Editor's Choice and NetScreen claimed the Outstanding Product award.
- Computer 2000 won six awards in distribution, including Business Distributor of the Year for the fourth year in succession. Awards also went to Ingram Micro, Ideal, CMS and Unipalm.
This year's entertainment was provided by Never Mind The Buzzcocks star Phill Jupitus, comedian Omid Djalili and performance artists Incandescence.
In addition, those who did not want to gamble away the rest of the evening in the specially assembled Las Vegas-style casino were able to dance into the early hours to spectacular Commitments-style live band Souled Out.
Everyone had a fantastic time and, with more than 1,000 people to feed and entertain, it was a sterling achievement by the organisers.
"The event was excellent, well organised with some great entertainment, particularly Omid Djalili," said Bal Phull, marketing communications manager at D-Link UK. "The awards night is a great networking event and a chance to see what's going on in the industry."
Dave Poskett, IPG commercial sales director at Hewlett Packard, said that Djalili was "right in line with the audience", and Phill Jupitus added some real colour.
"When you are invited to this event you go with certain expectations, and you see so many characters now; there is a lot of experience out there," he said.
EYES ON THE PRAISE
Objective Computing, the winner of the SME Reseller of the Year award, was quick to publicise its achievement, and received some glowing testimonials in response. Imagine the impact these comments might have on customers.
Kathryn Parry, a representative of UK Online 4 Business London, said: "The people at Objective have contributed enormously to helping UK Online 4 Business provide sound, jargon-free advice to London's small to medium-sized businesses.
"They have demonstrated enthusiasm, creativity and commitment to this and have supported our efforts. Thank you, and congratulations on achieving this award; you deserve to have your efforts recognised."
John Whittingdale OBE, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and MP for Maldon and East Chelmsford, said: "Well done. I send my warm congratulations to Objective Computing on its well-deserved success."
David Chaudry, business development chief at smart card vendor Gemplus, said: "Congratulations. You deserve it for all the hard work that has gone in this year."
Objective is believed to be the only UK Gemplus partner supporting SMEs.
Computer 2000 (0870) 060 3344
CMS Peripherals (020) 8960 6000
D-Link (020) 8731 5555
Fujitsu Siemens (01344) 475 811
Hewlett Packard (01344) 360 000
Ideal Hardware (020) 8286 5000
Ingram Micro (01908) 260 422
Equanet (020) 8974 2321
NetScreen (08700) 750 000
Objective Computing (01268) 541 982
Prime Business Solutions (01635) 568 000
Teksys (01256) 827 555
Unipalm (01638) 569 646
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