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“Our experience is there’s a definite ripple effect throughout the business from the process of entering and winning awards,” says David McElhinney, CEO of Liverpool Direct. “They do add value. I am convinced winning them can help in getting new business for the organisation as a whole.”

Judging by the paucity of internal IT teams coming forward for recognition through the public awards process, not all CIOs agree. Awards night – you can see it in your mind now: a glittering gala evening in DJ and best bib and tucker, all the team gathered eagerly around the table. The time comes for presentation and the award goes to… someone else. Looking at the fallen faces round the table, you curse your decision to enter. Exit stage left, all somewhat cowed. What was the point, apart from the free alcohol? When next year’s invitation to enter an awards process comes round it quietly ends up in the circular data container you keep at the bottom of your desk.

If this is your picture of the awards phenomenon – an admin-intensive procedure, with no guarantee of success at the end – then you may be doing a disservice to your team. Even just entering an award can often be enough to get internal recognition from the business of your team’s hard work and endeavours – and can end up doing a lot more. Take Liverpool Direct, a joint venture between BT and Liverpool Council’s old IT department that has made significant achievements since it was created in 2001. At least some of these have been acknowledged through the organisation winning such gongs as best in sector for a European Call Centre award, a prize from the European Foundation for Quality Management, Local and Government section, plus the 2005 Innovation Award from the Professional Planning Forum Public Sector.

Double whammy

“Awards have two benefits,” says McElhinney. “They engineer a certain amount of pride throughout the organisation and they also offer some public recognition of the hard work of your colleagues. Essentially this is all good ‘PR’ for the business as a whole. An award in a way is almost like the best review you can have of a successful piece of work or a good project.”

"They do add value. I am convinced winning them can help in getting new business for the organisation as a whole"

David McElhinney, CEO, Liverpool Direct

Another way to think of a review, he adds, is to see it as just another part of the normal reviewing process all business-IT projects will undergo. “A review is really a focus on the benefits of the project and the business rationale for why it was undertaken. That’s what a public award is too.”

McElhinney also rejects the oft-repeated claim that there is too much administration and paper chasing involved. “Is there faff? Like anything, there has to be a certain amount of investment in it to get a return. I’d say if it is – and to be honest it’s usually minimal – it’s worth it to get the recognition.”

He also pooh-poohs the idea that it is all about being the award winner and second place is nothing. “You don’t necessarily have to win to get benefit. It’s good for the team to get to the short listed stage. It’s a great buzz to be there for the team in their DJs; it’s almost a bonus if they get called up on stage.”

Pleasing the boss

It could well be your boss who is more pleased with you that you did so well. Joel Edgeley is IT manager at KK Fine Foods, a privately owned firm in Teeside that specialises in providing frozen convenience foods for firms in the leisure business like brewers Greene King and Mitchells & Butlers. The firm has won two awards: it was highly commended in the manufacturing and business management category at a recent UK IT Manufacturing awards process, and also was awarded the Welsh Medium Sized Business of the Year Award in 2004. The chairman of his firm, Graham Jackson, waxes lyrical about awards and their importance to the operation commercially.

“Awards are really important to us as a company. They help us attract a lot of attention – people are now ringing us more. Winning something has definitely introduced us as a company to prospective clients we wouldn’t have linked up with otherwise. The IT side has a lot to do with this. We couldn’t believe what had been achieved with getting us to market quicker.”

Positive PR

In KK Fine Foods’ case it was not just the IT that was singled out but a company-wide performance improvement that was a lot to do with Edgeley’s work. He led a recent project to upgrade to a new ERP system that allows the firm to easily juggle any and all price variants in the 40 or so standard ingredients. “This is a modular system that is much more flexible than some of the more straightforward packages we had looked at,” he says. “We couldn’t have won the awards we have without the IT being in place,” says Edgeley.

"It’s important for a small company like us to be seen as equals in the awards process with bigger firms. This has definitely been good for morale in both the IT team and the rest of the company"

Joel Edgeley, IT manager, KK Fine Foods

“There wasn’t actually all that much administration and preparation involved in entering the awards; all we had to do was outline what we’d done in terms of achievements for the business,” he says. “Also it’s important for a small company like us to be seen as equals in the awards process with bigger firms. This has definitely been good for morale in both the IT team and the rest of the company.”

The impact of your effort to the rest of the organisation should not be under estimated, adds Martyn Sayce, head of service at HBOS cards and loans. He recently won a prestigious Service Management award from the user group that promotes this approach, the itSMF. The achievement was not ignored.

“We definitely got recognition from our peers in the business for this,” he says. “This went straight on to the group intranet and we had lots of congratulations from other parts of the bank. This even came down to people just passing by the desk saying ‘well done’.

“It was a real boost and we were definitely seen as having done well; after all in an open national process we had come ahead of our competitors, which is always nice.”

Group effort

Sayce won the award in an individual sense – he was deemed to be a ‘champion’, that is someone who spearheaded to board level the need and value for the service management approach inside his organisation. However, he stresses that the award only makes sense in the context of the efforts of his entire team. “I don’t think there would be so much value, frankly, if it was just an individual thing. This was after all a major 14 month project and it’s the hard work and achievement that I see this as marking,” says Sayce.

So is engaging with the awards process something he recommends to other IT leaders? “Absolutely. In many ways it is the best ending to a major project. You often have a sense of anticlimax at the end of a long project and it is all too easy to get disillusioned. Entering an awards scheme can be a nice way of getting the team galvanised again, and if you do get somewhere the recognition is a wonderful ending to the process. So it has team and internal benefits as a whole, I’d say.”

The verdict has to be – do not be shy. Come forward and let the world know of your team’s hard work and its positive contribution to the business. And you probably look pretty good in a tuxedo anyway.

Award winning thoughts

How do you pick which are the right awards to enter? There are vast numbers of different ones but there are things to look out for to help you prune the list to focus on the most relevant ones:
Look at last year’s winners and shortlists – if the shortlists are long, more than five, it devalues the merit of a shortlisting as the idea is probably just to sell tables.
Who are the previous winners – would you be in good company? For example, if you are Barclays should you be in a race with Bob’s Bakery, Snips Hairdressers and Railway Models?
Look at the expense of entering – often higher than anticipated which is also why you need to be selective. It could cost over £5,000 – £100 for the entry, cost to draft the entry if you use external help, £2,000 for a table, drinks bill, hotels, travel and the time costs for those involved.
But bear in mind the result – the networking on the night, the kudos of winning in front of peers, the effect on staff morale, all the while scoring points with clients.