Picking the winners

Next month, judging begins for the 2009 edition of the Arab Technology Awards – and for me, that will be the real litmus test of whether the region’s IT ventures have emerged from the global financial crisis.

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By  Imthishan Giado Published  August 9, 2009

Next month, judging begins for the 2009 edition of the Arab Technology Awards – and for me, that will be the real litmus test of whether the region’s IT ventures have emerged from the global financial crisis.

Last year of course, we received a record 124 entries for the awards, which honour the region’s most ambitious IT projects and the individuals who work tirelessly to make them happen. We hope to beat that total this year, but we’re certainly under no illusions – it’s a tough market out there for enterprises right now.

Costs are rising, the supply of talent has dried up and IT is increasingly under pressure to deliver financial savings while reducing staff overheads. This is, I believe, in opposition to the true function of IT: to improve the competiveness of the business while presenting new avenues for them to interact with their customers.

To that end, we’ve performed the equivalent of a little plastic surgery on the awards this year, reshaping them to better reflect the current economic conditions. For example, one of the most popular categories from last year, Government and Education Implementation of the Year has been split into two separate ones to better handle the volume of entries.

Professional Services Implementation of the Year, on the other hand, has been moved into the vendor category where it is now titled Enterprise Service Provider/Consultant of the Year. In our experience, the vast majority of consultants in the region who work with IT departments are deployed from the vendor side of the fence or function as a semi-independent arm of the local integrator business. In many ways, they are the unsung heroes of technology; the men and women who help CIOs and IT managers nurse projects to the finish line, while avoiding the learning of expensive lessons along the way.

The really big change this year can be found in the vendor categories, where Vendor of the Year has been split into software, hardware and security categories. Last year, we got irate calls from more than a few smaller shops that felt uncomfortable competing with IT giants like SAP and Sun Microsystems. Hopefully, this will mean that some of the region’s smaller vendors will be keener to nominate, and perhaps even cause of the upsets which the awards are famous for.

There’s also a new Green systems implementation this year which is open to all verticals. It’s particularly interesting for vendors who have been harping on all year about their environmentally-friendly credentials – but as far as we’re concerned, pulling off green IT projects in the West where regulatory pressures are far stronger is of no concern to the Middle East. Out here, our energy costs are spiralling upward accompanied by rising pollution and rapidly-declining air quality so we need enterprises to build green systems now – not in 20 years. The number and quality of entries we receive will be the best judge to date of where the region stands on green IT – though disturbingly, many CIOs I’ve spoken to have already expressed a harsh degree of scepticism.

No doubt to some, it may seem that we’re tinkering with a successful formula at our peril. But it’s in the nature of humanity to crave change, and the market which the awards reflected last year is now consigned to history. This year, IT managers have challenges which many have never faced before and if they’re still pushing the envelope, it’s certainly something to be celebrated. So these changes may make a difference or they may make none at all.

But what has always made a difference, what indeed is the dividing line between a winning entry and one that the judges reject, remains resolutely the same. Write a good entry explaining how a project has brought meaningful change to an enterprise’s bottom line while overcoming adversity and your project will stand out to the judges. Fill your entry with empty platitudes about how you had no issues at all and expect our judges – and our readers, especially this year – to roll their eyes in incredulity.

Imthishan Giado is the deputy editor of Arabian Computer News.

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