Inside the Microsoft Innovation Awards

I didn’t put any money down on the Rams or the Patriots, but the Super Bowl still managed to make a loser out of me.

When I first learned that Microsoft Canada was holding its Innovation Awards on the same night as one of the biggest sporting events of the year, I braced myself for the

worst. Not only would I miss any chance of watching the game, I would also be spending my Sunday night with the IT industry. Resellers, I was sure, would resent giving up their own Super Bowl parties and attendance would be low. The agenda was long: cocktails at 6:00 p.m., followed by dinner and an awards ceremony that threatened to go on until after 10:00 p.m.

That’s why I came up with a special Microsoft Innovations drinking game. Any time a Microsoft executive or reseller used the words “”Super Bowl,”” “”football,”” “”Rams”” or “”Patriots,”” during the ceremonies, we would take a drink. I explained the rules to my colleague, CDN assistant editor Jennfier O’Brien, Microsoft Canada channel marketing manager Jahnis Gillan, and a table full of VARs. Gillan was more than up for it. “”I love you guys,”” she said.

As it turned out, I spent the evening (more or less) sober. No one mentioned the big game or worked in a joke about their favourite team. The Innovations Awards, which were held at the Liberty Grand Entertainment Complex on the CNE grounds in Toronto, were all business. Recognizing excellence in categories that include the development of corporate portals, e-business projects, business intelligence and application integration, they constitute a very important pat on the back. As Peter Rakoczy, Microsoft Canada’s director of Consulting Services pointed out, too many resellers look at Microsoft as their competition. That’s a misconception, he said, considering Microsoft employs only 150 consultants across the country.

“”We’re here to drive the adoption of the platform. That’s really it,”” he said.

Apart from clearing up channel conflict, this marks an extra-important year for Microsoft to keep its partners happy. Having positioned its forthcoming .Net strategy as a make-or-break endeavor, it will be counting on VARs to get the related products to market. “”Microsoft is coming out with .Net, but that creates an enormous need for training,”” said Aldo Zanoni, president of Network Learning Masters, which picked up the award for Microsoft CTEC of the Year.

Programs like the Innovation Awards (whose trophies looked remarkably like the glass People’s Choice Awards statuettes) are becoming an essential perk by which vendors differentiate themselves to reseller partners. Most of the 2002 winners will be probably be announcing their victories individually, but I decided to pass out a few awards of my own that may give some perspective on the evening as a whole:

Best Course: Probably the main course of either roast beef or red snapper. The appetizer was a cocktail glass filled with shrimp, escargot and other seafood, which several guests passed on. Dessert was a maple syrup creme brule tart, but some guests had a hard time identifying the honey poached pear slices on top. “”Whatever it is, don’t eat it — it’s terrible!”” one VAR exclaimed.

Most Jubilant Winner: trIOS Training Centre, by a wide margin. While most winners shuffled up modestly to the podium, a woman from trIOS stood up screaming, clapped wildly and leapt into the arms of one of her coworkers. “”Someone give that woman another beer,”” commented a Microsoft executive.

Most Prepared: EDS Canada, which left its acceptance speech lying on one of the bathroom sinks. The firm won for Government Solution of the Year and Services Organization of the Year.

Best Back Scratcher: Jason Martin, president of Navantis, who spent one of several trips to the podium to emphasize that Microsoft “”runs the best partner program in the country.”” “”Are you getting that down?”” a Microsoft exec asked me.

Best Timekeeper: Microsoft Canada president Frank Clegg. Though he acknowledged the similarity between the Innovation Awards and the Academy Awards, he proved much more strict than Billy Crystal. “”One thing we don’t want to imitate is the time,”” he said, demanding that winners keep their speeches to 30 seconds. “”If you can’t do that, I might get ugly.”” It worked: the award presentation whipped by in about 45 minutes. Most people were out the door by 9:30 p.m.

While I stood in the coat check line, the two women in front of me picked the evening apart. “”It was good,”” one said, “”but I wish they’d had a live feed from the Super Bowl during the dinner.””

Where’s a drink when you need one?

sschick@plesman.com

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