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The Lotus Awards – Formerly the Beacon Awards -- no longer represent the BEST of what’s out there

By Andrew Pollack on 12/12/2010 at 08:45 PM GMT

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been nominated for the Lotus Awards three times. I’ve been a finalist twice, and I’ve won an award category once. Peer recognition is very gratifying and I certainly felt honored by the experience -- especially as one man shop, where I have to imagine,propose, sell, develop, deliver, and support the solution personally from start to finish. That’s why I’m so disappointed with the direction the award has taken recently. The awards are meant to represent the very best work being done in our community in several categories. It should be a showplace for the leading edge technologies and use cases from the broadest possible range of companies, business partners, and customers. Unfortunately, this is just not the case any longer – if it ever was.

When I looked into submitting a customer’s solution this year, I discovered something that I was sure had to be a mistake. The awards nomination process now excludes anyone who is not an Advanced or Premier partner within the IBM Partnerworld program. When I contacted people at IBM to see if this was an accident, I learned that the requirement had changed for the 2010 awards and was the official policy for this year as well.

These kinds of awards are always somewhat political and marketing driven. That’s no surprise and even in the category descriptions IBM is pretty clear that the more products of theirs you use, and in particular the more you make use of the ones they most currently want to talk about, the better your chances. That’s fair enough. It’s in the category descriptions and it is IBM’s award after all.

Judging for awards like this are always flawed. I’ve been surprised in the past to find that additional information provided by way of a URL to the judges (which is an option when submitting) wasn’t even opened by the judges in one case a few years ago. That’s sad, but you can’t really point to it as a flaw big enough to judge the whole process.

Excluding any submissions not from Advanced or Premier Partners is, however, a bridge too far in my opinion. IBM cannot claim that the Lotus Award represents the “BEST” work being done if they do not even accept nominations that don’t come from partners willing to take a few more tests, submit a few more customer details, and jump through a few more hoops required by Partnerworld. Technically, it is possible that I could have done the work to get my one-man shop recognized at the “Advanced” level. Another partner showed me just what hoops could be jumped through to make that possible – but there’s no reason for me to do it. I don’t sell licenses, I don’t wish to share customer details with IBM’s sales and consulting teams who quite frankly haven’t always proven worthy of having that information, and I don’t need the additional recognition that comes with the “Advanced” status. IBM has decided then, that any solution I build for my clients can’t possibly be as good as another partner site that has a few more people and is willing to play those games.

I am left with the conclusion that the IBM Awards no longer represent the highest standards of ability, innovation, imagination, or productivity at all. They represent a lead generation tool for IBM and little more. I’m very sad to see this.


There are  - loading -  comments....

re: The Lotus Awards – Formerly the Beacon Awards -- no longer represent the BEST of what’s out thereBy Matt White on 12/12/2010 at 04:12 PM EST
I'm another small business partner who has won Lotus Awards in the past who
would not be able to win with these new criteria. Makes no sense to me other
than to say that it's yet more evidence of IBM not being interested in small
business in any way (partner or customer)
re: The Lotus Awards u2013 Formerly the Beacon Awards -- no longer represent the BEST of whatu2019s out thereBy Ethann Castell on 12/12/2010 at 04:38 PM EST
For once, I completely agree with you. The requirement to be an Advanced
partner can certainly limit the field.
Also, the categories seem to be ridiculous. For example I didn't see any
category for Lotus Notes development tools.
JudgingBy Ed Brill on 12/12/2010 at 10:23 PM EST
I just want to comment on the judging process and specifically the
click-through URLs.

I am a judge this year again as i have been about every other year for the last
eight.

When I see clearly-customized URLs in the submissions that say "click here for
my demo" or "click here for more information" I steadfastly avoid them. I see
it done frequently, but I am not interested in walking into a trap of being
able to be tracked as a judge. The submission should speak for itself, and if
it can't, I will find the additional information I require through my own means.

Every judging team I have been part of has diligently put in the effort to
choose the best submission. Sometimes, we have to wade through 20 pages of
crap in order to find a page or two of useful information, other times there
isn't even the most basic info in the submission. But we all read every one of
them and discuss them.

I understand your frustration with the Advanced/Premium Partner restriction but
I do not think it is fair to extend some conjecture to the judging process
itself.
re: JudgingBy Andrew Pollack on 12/13/2010 at 12:13 AM EST
I'll have to go look up the URL I used to better make this point -- and I will
in the morning. I can assure you, it was perfectly usual and clearly a link
for more information as described by the submission page instructions.
Smarter Planet*By Giulio on 12/13/2010 at 12:18 AM EST
I am sure Ed and the panel are genuinely impartial and sincere in their
efforts.

However, those who oversee the structure of the awards scheme and determine who
is eligible to enter are performing below par when they work for a company that
supposedly promotes the "smarter planet" as it's global tag line and has
innovative individuals smugly talking about how great the world is with IBM in
their advertising.

Perhaps it should be a "smarter planet, (but only if you have advanced/premium
partner status)". You could get around though, if a group of you got together
to form a virtual business partner that meets the criteria. Like any
bureaucracy, you gotta work the system to beat it.
re: JudgingBy Matt White on 12/13/2010 at 03:36 AM EST
Ed,

The only reason we supplied extra URLs and information was because the
submission process asked for them. Seems like a lot of extra work was being
created for no benefit if you specifically don't look at them.

Matt
re: JudgingBy Ben Langhinrichs on 12/13/2010 at 10:07 AM EST
That was my understanding as well. What is the point of asking for information,
but ignoring it?
re: JudgingBy Carl Tyler on 12/13/2010 at 08:11 AM EST
OK this part of you response kind of upsets me:

"When I see clearly-customized URLs in the submissions that say "click here for
my demo" or "click here for more information" I steadfastly avoid them. I see
it done frequently, but I am not interested in walking into a trap of being
able to be tracked as a judge. The submission should speak for itself, and if
it can't, I will find the additional information I require through my own
means."

IBM maybe late to the party, but customized URLs are often part of an
"Exceptional Web Experience" in order to provided targeted content to your
specific audience.

Many people who submit Lotus Award applications create specific URLs for the
application to help judges cut through the junk and get straight to the meat so
that they can save judges time. I would always create a custom URL and custom
video for award entries, because it would then focus on what IBM were looking
for in the entry. Partners that take the awards seriously put in serious
effort and a tailored URL is often part of that effort.

Maybe there are some partners that want to track if you specifically follow
their link, but unless I'm wrong, entrants do not know who the judges are,
entrants cannot supply each judge with a specific link just for them. Maybe
there is a group of BPs just tracking your IP addresses Ed (I'm not in that
group) I don't know.

I hope partners never return the favour of never clicking on customized links
that IBM sends us, as all of a sudden those PartnerWorld emails would be pretty
much useless to us.
re: JudgingBy Nathan T. Freeman on 12/13/2010 at 10:30 AM EST
Agreed, Carl. The notion of someone submitting a software solution to a judging
panel, and that panel passing judgment without looking at the software is...
well, I hesitate to use the word "corrupt", but I really can't find any other
way to put it.

On the other hand, the idea of evaluating a software platform without actually
LOOKING at it seems distinctly IBM, doesn't it?
re: JudgingBy Ed Brill on 12/13/2010 at 01:14 PM EST
I didn't say I didn't look at it. I just don't appreciate being tracked.
re: JudgingBy Nathan T. Freeman on 12/13/2010 at 02:45 PM EST
"When I see clearly-customized URLs in the submissions that say "click here for
my demo" or "click here for more information" I steadfastly avoid them."

How do you "avoid" a URL other than by not clicking on it?
re: JudgingBy Carl Tyler on 12/13/2010 at 02:47 PM EST
He doesn't make eye contact.
re: JudgingBy Ed Brill on 12/13/2010 at 03:00 PM EST
Most of you have demos available elsewhere.
re: JudgingBy Andrew Pollack on 12/13/2010 at 07:10 PM EST
------------------------------------------------------
ABSOLUTELY RIGHT CARL
------------------------------------------------------
The custom URL I had used in that case was a link to a one page collection of
information that would be immediately useful to someone doing judging, whereas
the main web site is targeted to the needs of an entirely different industry
who couldn't give a rat's ass about what technologies were used to build and
deploy the solution.

A shame none of the judges bothered to look at it. They may have learned
something.
re: Judging -- HERE YOU GO, ED.By Andrew Pollack on 12/13/2010 at 11:36 AM EST
Here you go.

Where the form suggested putting a web site address for more information that
could fit in the brief text box description on the award nomination - including
video, screen shots, examples, etc... I entered this URL:

http://www.secondsignal.com/secondsignal/sshome.nsf/html/lotusAwardInformation

It is not customized for a particular judge, but it is specific to the award
process. It's a public page, but not linked from anywhere.

*** HOW ELSE would you suggest judges be given information about products which
may be behind firewalls, may require video or graphical explanation, may have
examples or case studies, etc. ?? ****

The page is still up. It contains sample audio output, screen shots, case
studies, and published customer quotes as well as an overview of the
application and product.

There were ZERO hits to that page according to the log files during the judging
process.

The solution that was submitted in this case was evaluated without a single
judge looking at the page.

I followed the directions.

Now, I don't know if this was a good enough solution to win. I do know it was
good enough to make the finals list. I do know it was good enough to deserve
being LOOKED AT by judges who didn't know what it was.

Two judges I know already knew about the project. You and one other. I can
see not going to the page if you already know about the solution. I don't know
who the other judges were (and don't care) but I do know they didn't bother
going to the page that the submission form suggested I go to the trouble of
creating.
re: The Lotus Awards u2013 Formerly the Beacon Awards -- no longer represent the BEST of whatu2019s out thereBy Peter Presnell on 12/13/2010 at 07:22 AM EST
Andrew, isn't it true that when the Lotus Awards (Beacon Awards) were started
back in 1995 there were criteria that Lotus Business Partners needed to meet in
order to be classified as a member? My own company became a business partner
in 1996 and I remember having to go to a lot of effort just to qualify. It
seems now days that anyone can become an IBM Business Partner, simply by
nominating themselves. If that is the case then there is some merit in IBM
making a decision to set criteria on the part of the nominees to have a
commitment to the Business Partner program in order to be eligible for the
Business Partner awards. That would be what the word "Partner" is all about!
I think with these awards IBM are looking to show recognition to those that are
also committed to the Partner program and not just those seeking the award to
promote themselves.

I know you are very committed to the Lotus Product, but it doesn't sound like
you are committed to the IBM Business Partner Program based upon your
statements about the program. It seems to me if your really wanted to win
another one of these awards you do have a path open to you? You're just
choosing not to follow it.
re: The Lotus Awards u2013 Formerly the Beacon Awards -- no longer represent the BEST of whatu2019s out thereBy Nathan T. Freeman on 12/13/2010 at 07:59 AM EST
Peter I think you're missing Andrew's point. It's not that he can't qualify for
the Advanced status. It's simply that doing so has nothing to do with the
merits of the customer's solutions. By adding this artificial criteria of sales
certifications for the submitting partner, IBM is excluding solutions that
might be superior to the alternatives.

Imagine if the same criteria applied to the openntf.org award? It would
excluded almost every option.
re: The Lotus Awards u2013 Formerly the Beacon Awards -- no longer represent the BEST of whatu2019s out thereBy Andrew Pollack on 12/13/2010 at 11:39 AM EST
Peter,
Not being an "Advanced" partner is not necessary to my business model. It
would not help me, and it would not help IBM. It's mutual. I COULD be an
advanced partner. I have enough certifications that if I took a single sales
course I could fill in the blanks just right to get it through. It offers me
no value, and certainly offers IBM no value to have me do so. Are you
suggesting that this means my solutions are less likely to be "best in class"?
re: The Lotus Awards u2013 Formerly the Beacon Awards -- no longer represent the BEST of whatu2019s out thereBy Erik Brooks on 12/13/2010 at 08:24 AM EST
The only non-marketing reason IBM would do this (require higher level BP
status) would be because they received too many submissions and couldn't
properly review them all. They would need some sort of way to lower the number
of reviewed entries and that would be a valid way to do so.

But I'm sure that's not why they did it.
re: The Lotus Awards u2013 Formerly the Beacon Awards -- no longer represent the BEST of whatu2019s out thereBy Curt Carlson on 12/13/2010 at 09:23 AM EST
I would agree with you Andrew. Seems like a foolish requirement. Perhaps they
want to reduce the number of submissions to be judged?
re: The Lotus Awards u2013 Formerly the Beacon Awards -- no longer represent the BEST of whatu2019s out thereBy Howard on 12/13/2010 at 10:17 AM EST
I agree, there should be no exclusion based on the type of partner. To me, it
seems like the best innovations come from the smaller partners.

And, the categories are a joke. I have no idea where our training courses
would even fit.
re: The Lotus Awards u2013 Formerly the Beacon Awards -- no longer represent the BEST of whatu2019s out thereBy Declan Lynch on 12/13/2010 at 12:04 PM EST
I understand exactly how you feel. Solutions that may be better then others may
now be excluded just because somebody decided that they didn't want/need the
advanced partner status.

If judges aren't clicking on links that HAVE BEEN ASKED FOR in the nomination
process then that is just poor judging but for all we know only Andrew's URL
has never been clicked on but other entrants have had the URL clicked on. Why?
Who knows. maybe the nameless judges don't like Andrew and just discounted his
entry without looking at it for personal reasons. This is only conjecture,
nobody knows except the judges.

The rules for the Lotus Awards seem to be made up on the spot and at the whim
of the organizers and judges. Take the OpenNTF awards, there is one for
Business Partners and one for Individuals but there seems to be no problem to
allow an individual who is employed by a business partner to enter the
individual award. That doesn't seem right to me at all and after last years
awards I'm not even bothering to enter in anything this year.
re: The Lotus Awards u2013 Formerly the Beacon Awards -- no longer represent the BEST of whatu2019s out thereBy Rob Novak on 12/13/2010 at 02:20 PM EST
My thoughts...since it says "Your thoughts..." right above.

I don't have the same problem you and others do with the Advanced requirement.
As you know Andrew (because I might have even been the one to tell you about my
process) I've jumped through the hoops. In fact last year (2009, for the 2010
Awards) I did exactly that to get SNAPPS to Advanced, because I hadn't paid
attention until then. The same happened this year with Premier.

The bar is not that high at all for someone with a product in the Domino space.
And one point you mention is a misconception - when you submit a product
(secret: a services bundle can be submitted, as can a free utility) to the
Global Solutions Directory for validation, the customer reference you supply
remains completely unpublished both internally and externally. By doing this
(and you can do as many as you want, but there's a limit on how many you can
have count towards status) you can get 4 or 8 points. It takes 10 for Advanced.
You get 2 points for a basic technical cert, 3 for an advanced technical cert,
1 for a sales cert, and while you can have hundreds of points as an individual,
IBM does limit the number that count towards status to 5 per person. So 5
8=13=Advanced. I invested about a half day in that.

So a one-person shop can be Advanced if they already have a few points of certs
and a product (service bundle, freebie, etc..) to submit for validation. This
would be easy for you, Ben, and any number of partners. Could a one-person shop
get to Premier? Technically, yes, although that would require some real
wizardry and points for service and product sales volume, a partner plan, real
references (the ones you alluded to that IBMers can see and share). The
non-technical stuff. A hassle. Much easier for a 3-person shop with 2 products,
who can get 31 points by certing up.

There are little-known benefits to attaining these levels, that surprised me
just a month ago, and I've been a partner since 1994. For instance, whenever
you submit to the Global Solution Directory (GSD) you get 3 months entitlement
to technical support - directly as a partner without having to use a customer
account as a crutch (another story another day) - on the solution and its
foundation elements (Domino, etc.). That one blew me away. And of course, the
perfect strategy is to separate multiple submissions by 89 days :-). I can get
Quickr support for about 5 years, Notes/Domino for 3 years, Sametime for a
year...YMMV on the ISV support as Carl has pointed out in the past, but it's
there.

About judging. Being married to a former 2008 and prior judge (I don't know the
process today, but there used to be a media judge in each category's judging
team), I know the process is tedious. In full disclosure, I never saw any entry
nor was ever in the building during judging calls, nor did I even ever know the
category or categories where Liz was on the judging panel. But she did explain
the process, and not in any year where I submitted anything. When I did once, I
told her and she recused herself from that category (or wasn't on it anyway).

So, there was a first cut that dismissed poorly written or just bad entries.
You'd be amazed what that % is - she said sometimes 80%. Guess what,
technologists aren't generally the best writers (present company excepted)! So
to counter the point about passing judgment without looking at a demo, the
first and foremost consideration is that the partner can articulate their
solution and its value proposition really well, then later if that hurdle is
passed whether it demos really well. This is why we see the tendency towards
larger established partner winners with on-staff writers/marketing folks in the
product-focused categories. Then several conference calls to discuss the merits
of solutions and entries. More cuts, then a review of well-written,
well-positioned entries that fit the criteria for judging the best. Then given
time, some of them were looked at (videos, samples). If you didn't get this far
(maybe 5 or 6 left) there was no reason to look at the video or sample. So any
residual grousing (yeah, I said it) about "they didn't even look at my video"
in my opinion just gets chalked up to not making the semifinal cut on the
merits of the written submission. These judges all have day jobs (and they
don't all work for IBM), so there's no reason to expect them to review every
entry for an award in depth.

About Ed's comment on the URL construction, I have mixed feelings. I disagree
with the generalization that he makes about avoiding them. If I have put
together a video, win or not, I'm interested in whether it's viewed by a judge.
That will inform me as to whether it's worth it to put in the effort the next
year. Years ago, I would have used Domino ?openform and redirected to capture
that. Today, it's much easier to avoid funky obvious URLs by embedding tracking
on the page, Google Analytics or something. So problem avoided. I still don't
agree that judges should avoid them because they are a certain format, that
doesn't seem fair. Assuming you're in the semifinal cut.

About the categories, I agree that each year in some attempt to focus on
whatever IBM will be promoting most heavily, the categories shift and drift and
are seemingly further from the core. Then again, when looking at IBM Lotus,
what one would consider the core is changing. My "favorites" are the ones with
requirements for the use of products IBM has just released or announced - as if
anyone has had time to get up to speed, let alone have a solution in the market!

A final story, then you can have at me. At one point I happened to be a Crystal
Reports expert. Also, a Business Objects expert. I once assembled an incredibly
elegant solution with 40 embedded SQL queries that did comparative analysis of
healthcare information (collected on Domino, dumped to SQL Server) to help
Children's Hospitals benchmark, see trends over time, and make informed
decisions about changes in care. I had the opportunity to demonstrate a sample
to the Crystal and Business Objects folks and they were absolutely blown away.
It was Award-worthy in their own opinion. But you see, they're owned by SAP.
Not only am I just peripherally aware of and lightly trained on SAP, I was an
expert by experience and not by certification or program membership. I didn't
want to deal with it. The incentive to cert up, join, submit, etc. just wasn't
there. So that year, whomever won an award from SAP in some analytics category
might well have missed out on the "best solution" of the year, because I didn't
feel like going through the hoops. Their bar was too high and their business
partner program too peripheral to my company's main focus.

My point in going anecdotal here is that if you're primarily in the IBM Lotus
business, and especially if you have a product/bundle/freebie, the bar doesn't
seem either too high or too peripheral to me. In fact, in my opinion the
highest bar is the requirement for customer references for the awards.
re: The Lotus Awards u2013 Formerly the Beacon Awards -- no longer represent the BEST of whatu2019s out thereBy Andrew Pollack on 12/13/2010 at 07:00 PM EST
Yes, Rob - I was referring to our conversation about how it is in fact possible
as a one man shop to achieve advanced status. I didn't want to use your name
here in case you didn't want it mentioned -- but now everyone will know you're
the guru of partnerworld maze.

Ultimately, I decided that being technically able to qualify -- possibly even
in the time required -- didn't change my opinion on the requirement for the
Award nominations, and there hasn't been any other benefit for my business
model to engage more deeply with the program.
re: The Lotus Awards u2013 Formerly the Beacon Awards -- no longer represent the BEST of whatu2019s out thereBy John Kingsley on 12/15/2010 at 10:58 AM EST
There is another avenue for you to get recognition for your mind-blowing
applications. The 4th annual Teamstudio Spotlight awards are open to all -
business partners, customers, consultants, etc. Feel free to submit your
application for this award. More information can be found here

http://www.teamstudio.com/news-events/contests-promotions-fun.html
re: The Lotus Awards u2013 Formerly the Beacon Awards -- no longer represent the BEST of whatu2019s out thereBy Bob Balaban on 01/15/2011 at 06:05 AM EST
You said, "The awards are meant to represent the very best work being done in
our community in several categories."

I think you're wrong about that. From IBM's point of view, the awards are meant
to represent and reward those practitioners who best support IBM's marketing
and sales goals of the moment.


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