With more than 1,200 guests, the 10th Channel Awards were the biggest, and arguably the best, so far.
The value of this annual event, both as great entertainment and from a networking point of view, is tremendous. The Channel Awards evening remains the most important date in the channel community's social calendar.
This year's revised set of categories resulted in a wider spectrum of companies claiming awards. But in the Vendor categories it was almost a clean sweep for Hewlett-Packard (HP).
David Smith, SMB channel manager for the company, was understandably delighted that HP had managed to pick up three awards in what has been a very difficult year.
"It was a great evening," he said. "We were absolutely delighted to win three awards and in particular the SME Partner award in the 10th anniversary year."
Asked if HP had been surprised to win three out of a possible four Vendor awards, he admitted: "Yes, we were, especially with the economic climate and all the changes we have been through.
"We went to the awards with no preconceptions and we'd like to thank all our reseller partners for voting for us."
Smith added that HP would now try to build on its new programmes and promised more partnerships with other vendors, such as the recent one between Microsoft and Vodafone, over the next 12 months. There will also be a stronger focus on marketing assistance for resellers, he said.
Some resellers, however, thought other vendors had earned the right to recognition and been unfairly overlooked.
One said: "I was very surprised by HP winning three awards. I thought that Fujitsu Siemens was more worthy in its category [Corporate Vendor of the Year] and am sad to see its endeavours go unrecognised."
The Specialist Vendor of the Year award went to the pace-setter in the memory market, Kingston Technology. Sales director Ann Keefe said that the vendor's whole UK and Ireland team were delighted to have won, especially because it showed that resellers had given a favourable verdict on the company.
"The fact that we were voted for by our resellers and distributors totally validates our award and reinforces to us that our hard work this year has paid off," she said.
"We are planning ahead for 2004 and want to provide even more value-add to the channel than before. We are confident that we will see further growth next year, both with our existing partners and with the recruitment of new resellers.
"It is very rewarding for everyone at Kingston for us to have won this award. It is a great motivator and an excellent way to end the year."
In distribution, Computer 2000 picked up the main Distributor of the Year award but, unlike previous years, it did not walk off with most of the rest of the prizes. Instead, Ingram Micro won the Corporate and SME categories and CMS Peripherals claimed the Specialist Award, against some very strong competition.
Bhavesh Patel, commercial director at Ingram, was grateful to all the resellers who cast their votes in his company's favour this year.
"We would like to thank all of the customers who voted for Ingram Micro at this year's Channel Awards," he said.
"The corporate and SME sectors represent two key strategic areas for us, and being voted in both categories is a testament to the hard work, support and focus that we strive to offer our customers.
"These awards represent a confirmation that Ingram Micro's strategy, programmes, services and all-round business partnership approach all serve to provide significant value to the channel."
The main distribution award went to Computer 2000 once again this year. Julian Klein, managing director of the company, said that winning the award in 2003 was particularly satisfying, as recent market conditions have been difficult and competition strong.
"We are tremendously proud and pleased with this achievement," he said. "It is an award for everyone at Computer 2000 and recognition of all their hard work and devotion to duty.
"Customers come first at Computer 2000, and the fact that our customers have, once again, voted us the best in the business, is very gratifying."
This left Ideal as the only distributor among the favourites remaining empty-handed, but only for a short while. The company picked up the Editor's Choice award for its LDi online licensing system.
Alex Tatham, vice-president global software sales at parent company Bell Microproducts, said: "To be awarded the Editor's Choice award for the work we've done with our revolutionary LDi product is a fantastic achievement for Ideal, and one we are very proud of.
"We've invested heavily in the development of LDi, making it uniquely able to solve the nightmare of corporate software licensing.
"The concept of adding value to our customer offering and leading the field with ground-breaking innovations has always been integral to our way of doing business, and it's great to see those values recognised."
Competition for the distribution awards was, as ever, very strong and many companies that have unquestionably done a good job, not just in 2003 but over the years, had to settle once again for a mention on the list of nominated companies.
Storage specialist Hammer was nominated in two categories, Specialist Distribution Partner and SME Distribution Partner. The firm's managing director, Paul Sangster, said: "We came to the awards night full of expectation.
"It was not to be, but the evening itself was, as always, well organised and entertaining. Before we knew it, it was Thursday morning and we were heading back to the office, determined that 2004 will be our year."
Many other companies, such as ETC, Midwich, Unipalm and others which did not win, echoed those views. But while there is always some contention about the specific categories, there is no questioning the success and popularity of the awards.
One major change this year was very particularly well received: the greater involvement of resellers. There were a total of five awards in the reseller categories this year.
While Equanet picked up two, claiming the Corporate Reseller award and the overall Reseller of the Year award, three other smaller and much less well-known resellers also received awards, and many others can be proud simply to have been nominated.
Abdul Terry, marketing manager at Equanet, said that winning again this year has already had an effect on the company. "We have already received congratulations from customers and partners," he said.
"We now have two more fantastic reasons why businesses should choose Equanet and we have already seen instances where this great news has won new business.
"We still find that collecting an award is a very humbling experience. Internally, it is a fantastic achievement for all our employees and a great morale booster. We are already thinking ahead to next year's awards."
Three smaller companies, EACS, Parity ICT and Majenta Solutions, picked up the other three reseller awards. We can expect to see the trend towards giving more recognition to resellers achievements continue in future.
Martin Cassidy, vice-president of EMEA at Bluesocket, which won the Outstanding Product of the Year, said he had also noticed an early response from the market.
"Winning this award is a top-shelf endorsement for Bluesocket's wireless gateways. We are very honoured. It has already attracted significant interest and enquiries from the channel and end-user customers and prospects," he said.
While the final awards presented on the night were for the Reseller, Vendor and Distributor of the Year, perhaps the most warmly received of the night was that of Channel Personality of the Year.
This was presented to the irrepressible managing director of Dabs.com, David Atherton, clearly a popular choice with the audience, judging by the wild applause.
Atherton said he was both surprised and delighted to have won. "It was a bit of a shock, although also an absolute honour," he said.
"Dabs.com has won lots of business awards this year and each is an achievement of which I'm really proud. Awards such as these are, of course, for the company as a whole and earned by each of the 250 people who work at Dabs.
"But winning Personality of the Year at the Channel Awards is different. It's an achievement just for me and I'm really chuffed."
While for many resellers, Dabs is a competitor, there is also a lot of respect for its achievements, as for all successful organisations in the reseller community.
Earlier in the day at a pre-event reseller focus group, one reseller said he was amazed that, given the difficult market conditions we have seen in the past two years, so many companies were still surviving in the channel.
Resellers, vendors and distributors that are able to prosper in such times fully deserve the channel's admiration. Those companies that manage to make it onto the Awards' shortlists again next year will perhaps be entitled to an even greater degree of respect.
WINNERS OF THE CHANNEL AWARDS 2003
Corporate Vendor Partner of the Year - Hewlett-Packard
SME Vendor Partner of the Year - Hewlett-Packard
Specialist Vendor Partner of the Year - Kingston Technology
Corporate Distribution Partner of the Year - Ingram Micro
SME Distribution Partner of the Year - Ingram Micro
Specialist Distribution Partner of the Year - CMS Peripherals
Corporate Reseller of the Year - Equanet
SME Reseller of the Year - EACS
CRN/Syscap Approved Innovator of the Year: Public Sector - Parity ICT
CRN/Syscap Approved Innovator of the Year: Private Sector - Majenta Solutions
Reseller of the Year - Equanet
Vendor of the Year - Hewlett-Packard
Distributor of the Year - Computer 2000
Outstanding Product of the Year - Bluesocket WG-2100 wireless gateway
Channel Personality of the Year - Dave Atherton, managing director of Dabs.com
Editor's Choice - LDi from Ideal
STAND-UP AND BE COUNTED: What did you think of the show?
This year's awards were hosted by comedian Jack Dee and also saw performances by former Hear'Say singer Kym Marsh and US comic Lewis Schaffer. Here's what some of the guests thought of the show.
"Jack Dee was excellent, and in my opinion not on for long enough. As with most years, most of the night passed in a blur and before we knew, it was Thursday morning." Paul Sangster, managing director, Hammer.
"We had a fantastic evening, despite returning empty handed. It was great to see such a turnout and so many faces I've not seen for a while. Jack Dee was excellent, the best ever, the format perfect and the food fabulous." Shaun Frohlich, chairman, Teksys.
"Jack Dee was a great choice of host. It was worth coming just for that." Bob Tarzey, services director, Quocirca.
"We enjoyed a great evening with good food, service and entertainment. Jack Dee was very funny and I still don't know who Kym Marsh is. I remain, however, a founder member of the Bring Back Bob Monkhouse Campaign." Seamus Twohig, commercial director, Ideal.
"We enjoyed an excellent evening celebrating our success with our channel partners and the other vendors. This year's event was the best one yet and Jack Dee was hilarious. He had obviously done his homework and it paid off." Ann Keefe, sales director, Kingston Technology.
"The Channel Awards has always been a highlight of my social calendar and this year's superb event certainly didn't disappoint." David Atherton, managing director, dabs.com.
BRIGHT IDEAS FOR NEXT YEAR'S EVENT
"We hope to win again next year, so please can you give us a table a bit nearer the stage. It was a very long walk and I thought I was never going to get there." Ann Keefe of Kingston Technology, who had to weave her way though a sea of tables to pick up the Specialist Vendor of the Year award.
"One idea may be to do a web-cast to involve more people. Keeping the balance between the vendors, distributors and resellers is key to ensure the whole industry is excited about the event." Abdul Terry of Equanet, which picked up two awards.
"Everyone should be able to see, hear and feel part of this bit of the event. The new categories worked well." Seamus Twohig, commercial director, Ideal, winner of the Editor's Choice award.
"The awards night is still the industry bash, although the event has now almost over-shadowed the awards. How about a good-natured, tongue-in-cheek wooden spoon award? For Dave Atherton it was great recognition and well deserved. He's a genuine character and it was a good choice." Andy Shepperd, vice-president channel sales EMEA, Computer Associates.
The awards helped to raise finds for AbilityNet, a national charity and the UK's leading provider of expertise on computing and disability. During dinner, guests bought £5 vouchers, to be exchanged for chips in the casino which opened after the presentations.
Jack Dee also contributed by drawing attention to one or two individuals in the audience in return for anonymous donations. All the proceeds from the sale of vouchers plus donations, amounting to £3,715, were donated to AbilityNet.
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