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Despite increasing uncertainty within the technology sector knocking confidence and bringing market confusion, the value-added IT channel continues to be faced with a wealth of opportunities. The traditional VAR is still contending with an influx of competitors from areas such as telecoms, e-services and specialist service companies, and as a result the solution provider community is much broader and more eclectic than ever before.
The Solution Provider of the Month competition, which has been supported independently by Hewlett-Packard since the awards programme began eight years ago, is designed to recognise the value-added channel's leading lights; the innovators, risk takers and high achievers. The Solution Provider of the Year award recognises an overall winner - the crème de la crème of that year.
The 2001 awards programme, which culminated last month in an exclusive awards ceremony at The Berkeley hotel in Knightsbridge, London, was the first in its current Ch@nnel 2001 format. It reflected the sheer diversity of the modern channel and how it is now actively integrating the new economy processes into its businesses.
In choosing each Solution Provider of the Month, the qualities we looked for were an innovative approach to technology; different thinking on staff management and retention; a willingness to change with the market; good references from customers and suppliers, and a good growth record for both profits and turnover.
The emerging channels
While this is a technology business, many of the criteria we judge companies on are business attitudes towards profit control, change and growth management, flexibility within the market, peer partnerships and customer and staff relationships, and future potential. This also helps us get round the complex task of judging large companies against smaller businesses and vertical market specialists against horizontal service providers.
The prize given each month - free advertising; free reprints of the company's profile as featured in Ch@nnel 2001; a plaque and certificate to display, and a Jornada PDA from Hewlett-Packard - was designed not only to recognise solution providers' achievements in these areas, but to practically assist them in the next stage of their development.
Our recent survey of the value-added channel, E-merging Ch@nnels, conducted to gain the most accurate feedback from the market, confirmed that, in line with last year's survey results, marketing continues to be a major concern in the channel; more so now with both the repositioning of VARs to become services companies and also the dramatic increase in pure specialist service companies.
Along with the need to boost service-based revenues, the next significant concern cited heavily in the survey was that of managing company growth: hardly surprising, as companies continue to spread their wings into newly evolving technology areas, such as mobile communications and Bluetooth. On this level, partnerships with technology companies was another top concern of the channel, as solution providers seek help in responding to increasingly discerning end-user demands.
There were eleven contenders for the Solution Provider of the Year award, all winners of the monthly competition. They boasted very diverse business models and areas of focus and sizes, making the selection of an ultimate winner an almost impossible task. Those in the running varied from e-solutions partners such as Lynx Technology, specialising in a range of professional and managed services encompassing both data and voice solutions, through to traditional specialist service VARs such as Taylor Made Computer Solutions, offering Web design, hardware and software sales.
Five companies were shortlisted. E-business infrastructure and ASP hosting company Lost Wax (January's winner) was nominated for its e-commerce solutions based on 'agent' technologies, produced for the likes of Orange and General Motors. It has successfully raised several rounds of funding from the business angel community, as well as boosting its resources with strategic VAR alliances.
Selway Moore (October's winner), a solution provider specialising in the lifecycle management of PCs, has responded to the imminent EU directive on electrical waste disposal. It offers mid-sized companies a PC disposal service with all the related services surrounding it.
E-business solution provider Crimsonwing (February's winner), a relative newcomer to the channel, focuses on developing and imple-menting solutions that marry retail companies' e-commerce needs with their back-end ERP systems. Known for its focus on business needs instead of technology for technology's sake, Crimsonwing set up a base in Malta, rather than enter the difficult process of subcontracting offshore skills to the UK.
CAE Office Systems (August's winner) is one of the few companies making a real impression in the voice-data market. An integrator with silver-level Cisco accreditation, the firm has added security and IP offerings to its product range - as well as telecoms skills - enabling it to make the full transition into convergence.
Memorex Telex (March's winner) is a company that reinvented itself, from manufacturer to pure systems integrator. It has come a long way from its mainframe IBM peripheral days, with 60 per cent of its revenue coming from IT integration services. Acknowledging that convergence is still often hype and is a hard sell, Memorex invested soundly in voice/data to enable itself to fight off the competition from telcos and voice resellers.
A worthy winner
The outright winner of the Solution Provider of the Year award was Crimsonwing. The company, headed by founder and chief executive David Walsh, received £12,500 of advertising in Reed Business Information's end-user publications, plus a trip for two to next year's Grand Prix in Barcelona, courtesy of Hewlett-Packard. Crimsonwing was founded in 1996 and now employs 200 people. Ch@nnel 2001 would like to extend its warm congratulations.