One of the great pleasures of my career is the opportunity to participate in judging panels for various industry awards. Although judging can demand a lot of time in reviewing the submissions and talking to the teams involved, it is always a very rewarding experience. In fact, I think we judges get more out of it than the participants.
We have the opportunity to learn about a wide variety of usually cutting-edge projects and implementations. Most feature innovative utilization of technologies or implementation techniques that are often first-in-industry, first-in-class or first-time publicly disclosed.
Over the years, I've been on judging panels for just about every aspect of data warehousing and business intelligence (BI). I've judged participants on massive implementations and modest, but innovative projects. Although I've handed out many awards, I always feel that by learning so much about so many different projects, teams and technologies, I am the big winner.
You may be considering submitting your project for one of the major industry awards. If so, you should be aware of the upsides and downsides of the process.
Preparing a good submission takes time and effort. You and your team will need to dedicate time to crafting a clear, concise submission that fully describes your project and its relevant characteristics for the category you have chosen. In addition, the judges may call you for further interviews and detailed discussion of your system. All of this adds up to a significant time commitment for your team.
- You may not win. Although this may seem self-evident, there are teams that are convinced that their system is the most innovative, best-architected, best- constructed BI system in the history of mankind. It's a big world out there, and there are a lot of talented teams vying for these awards.
- You will need to reveal what you are doing. In order to have a chance to win, you will need to describe your system and its use of techniques, tools, technologies, etc. to a fairly large extent. If you are bound by a competitive situation that prevents you from doing this, you will have to make some difficult choices and seek approval from those pretty far up your management chain.
- You may need one of your vendors to help carry some of the weight. Most teams don't have the extra bandwidth required to prepare a winning-class submission. In these cases, they team up with one of their vendors to leverage their PR or marketing resources to prepare the submission and herd it through the judging process. This means that you will not be telling your own story, and your fate may be in the hands of an overworked marketing assistant.
Preparing a good submission is not really that difficult. If you simply follow the directions, answer all the questions and carefully match your word count to the requirements stated in the guidelines, you will be miles ahead of many submissions.
- The prestige and exposure you and your team gain from an industry award are an invaluable asset when it comes to career management and project marketing. Awards lead to positive messaging about you, your team and your project both inside and outside of your company.
The award submission process is a great way to step back and get a summary view of what your project is about, its benefits and its innovative use of available tools, techniques and technologies. Having this abridged version of your project available can be very handy when team members are communicating with senior executives.
If you work with a vendor on the submission, you can build and strengthen your vendor partnership. This is a real asset when the inevitable challenges arise around product performance, bugs, support, issue resolution, etc.
A contest submission should not be taken lightly, but the opportunities to profit from the experience generally outweigh the downsides. For instance, one of our clients (I did not participate in the voting for their award) that is involved in a merger won an industry award for data warehousing. This award is a tremendous asset for their team during the merger process as the wheat is separated from the chaff and decisions are made as to which projects, teams, departments, etc. will be retained or reinforced in the merged entity.
Following are some final suggestions for performing well in industry award competitions:
Meet the deadlines.
Follow the rules to the letter.
- Answer every question. If it doesn't apply, then say it doesn't apply. Don't leave any blanks.
- Meet the word count requirements. Don't provide a 500-word answer when the question is clearly labeled as requiring a 250-word answer.
- Write original copy for your answers. Don't use recycled press releases or marketing materials.
- Tell how your system is different.
- Focus on business impact and measurable success.
Remember that anyone can win an award; awards are not reserved for the big teams or big projects. I believe that just by participating, you'll find that everyone wins.
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