There were a large number of entries for this year's SME Reseller of the Year award and the judges had a difficult time paring them down to a short list of six.
The final group contains the most varied mix of contenders, ranging from small, locally focused resellers to the business operation of retail giant PC World, PC World Business.
East Anglia Computer Systems, or EACS, bases its claim to the award on being agile and adapting to customer demands. The company has achieved an 80 per cent improvement in turnover in 2002-3 over the previous trading year, and it was an Eastern Region Deloitte & Touche Technology Fast 50 finalist for the fifth consecutive year.
EACS has also been a finalist in two categories in the East of England Business Awards during the past four years. EACS completed projects for Argos, General Dynamics and Anglia Railways this year. The company won this corporate business largely on the back of its achievements in the SME market.
Many of EACS's customers certainly seem to have been impressed. A reference provided by the company from Farmers and Mercantile Insurance states: "The devotion to customer service at EACS is unlike any other I have experienced.
"You have no idea how much it means for your helpdesk to call me to check that the fix they gave is still working and that we have had no more problems."
Information management specialist Elyzium has a strong focus on developing its own and its customers' skills. The company is an accredited training partner for IBM Software Education and Novadigm.
Elyzium's success in delivering solutions to the middle market won the company the IBM Software Beacon Award earlier this year. It has developed solutions for a diverse range of sectors, ranging from banks to pharmaceutical companies and car manufacturers.
Like EACS, the company might appear to be focused on the corporate sector, but Elyzium's key credentials are in the SME market.
The IT manager of one retail organisation that has worked with the company said: "Elyzium is our preferred systems management partner. While it continues to provide the level of service we require, we will continue to use Elyzium to provide our products and services."
Merseyside reseller Parity ICT was on the short list for last year's SME award as well as this year's. One of the first resellers to gain Hewlett-Packard Centre of Excellence accreditation, the company has had a busy 2003.
It has started to perform regular health-check visits to customers and implemented a standardised reporting system with 'traffic light' indications to illustrate areas of strength and weakness to customers.
Parity has also developed interactive kiosks and mobile wireless terminals. It spent nearly a year working with user groups in the health sector developing a solution for accessing patient records electronically at the bedside. It hopes to extend this concept for use in SME markets such as manufacturing.
Earlier this year, Parity claimed the June CRN/Syscap Approved Technology Innovator of the Month award for a mobile wireless patient records system for Clatterbridge Centre for Oncology in Cheshire. Sheila Stewart, head of project management and business support at the Centre, praised the company's efforts.
"They came up with the design that met everybody's needs and then went away and specified the best possible components. I know they spent a lot of time looking for the best batteries, keyboards and display units, and then brought everything altogether," she said.
In July, Parity was chosen by the government to become a Technology Means Business Approved Centre. It was also accredited as a Best Practice Approved Supplier of ICT consultancy and advice by Business Link for Greater Merseyside.
This makes Parity the approved supplier of IT advice to SMEs in the area and means the company can offer 40 per cent rebates on consultancy services.
PC World Business is the largest contender for the SME Reseller award. The company has 130 centres in the UK, including 15 that were opened in the past year. Each has a dedicated Business Centre and the company claims that it has about 900,000 business customers annually. PC World Business's operations centre in Bury co-ordinates more than 1,000 dedicated business staff and 250 field engineers.
This year the operation has segmented its database to improve communications with customers, and introduced its SmartPlan finance scheme. PC World Business runs a Customer Satisfaction Index twice a year and collects internal indices to assess its service.
Many smaller organisations are benefiting from PC World Business's service. Daniel Stone, deputy chief executive of the Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, one of the company's clients, said: "Our dedicated account manager understood what we were trying to achieve and how our business needed to work.
"We were allocated a project manager who looked after the day-to-day running of the project on-site, allowing us to get on with managing our business. This professional service continued throughout the lifespan of the project and is still continuing."
Prior Analytics is a leading reseller for the publisher of the GoldMine customer relationship management (CRM) system, FrontRange Solutions. Prior has run a number of initiatives this year, introducing service-level agreements and a monitoring and management service for its customers.
It has been running free quarterly customer days and workshops, and developed its own customer support programme using GoldMine.
The company tailors solutions to customers' needs and has won some admirers among its customers. Nigel West, operations director at one Taxi Media, said: "Prior Analytics responded to our needs in a highly efficient manner.
"Its ability to understand our requirements and quickly deliver a tailored product was essential in what was a major change to our business strategy."
The final contender on this year's SME Award short list is WStore. The company was among the pioneers of online selling and has developed a sophisticated set of tools to enable customers to manage their ordering and accounts. It holds no stock, ships direct from distributors and streamlines the order process to keep costs down.
This year WStore launched its W4tech division, set up to sell more complex products and services to SMEs. It is focusing on areas that it believes are of vital importance to SME companies, such as security and storage, networking management, and software development tools and services.
WStore has been a contender in previous years but has come away empty-handed. Managing director Tony Price hopes that this year will be different. "Everyone that is nominated hopes they will win; this is the channel, after all, and competition is always fierce," he said.
"WStore was short-listed in the SME Reseller of the Year category last year and the E-Reseller of the Year category in the previous two years. Although we have never won a Channel Award, for a company that has only been around since July 1999, being short-listed is something of which we can feel proud."
Although there were many other worthy contenders, and doubtless hundreds more out there that are doing a great job in delivering IT to SMEs all over the UK, these six are clearly among the best, setting a standard to which all other resellers can aspire.
Cast your vote now
The Channel Awards voting pages are now open and will remain so until 23 October. You can cast your vote here. Voting is verified by the Audit Bureau of Circulation.
Channel Awards voting short list 2003
Corporate Vendor Partner
SME Vendor Partner
BT Indirect Channels
Specialist Vendor Partner
Parity ICT IT Partnerships
Corporate Distribution Partner
SME Distribution Partner
Specialist Distribution Partner
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