THE St. Lucia Business Awards have always been portrayed as an opportunity for large (and even small) businesses to be judged fairly on their contributions to excellence, innovation, sustainability and enterprise — staying true to the Chamber’s mission “to drive national growth and development enabling a healthy business environment where members can flourish.”
It was, therefore, seen as a rite of passage and an excellent medium for our small business, HRM Solutions Inc., to present to St. Lucia our very own locally-developed, fully-integrated Human Resource & Payroll software – CUBE HRMS. CUBE would eliminate the need for manual processes, Microsoft Excel and other imported/non-compliant solutions that businesses are forced to use in order to manage employee information and process payroll.
After more than five years of relentless research, development and testing, we were ready to assert that our CUBE-HRMS software was the most affordable, state-of-the-art, fully-automated and customizable software system that complies with all local employment laws and statutory regulations. This means that local businesses who adopt the system will become more efficient as a result of spending less time on tedious and repetitive tasks, experience improved communication and decision-making as well as reduced operating costs.
After completing the rigorous application process for the Prime Minister’s Award for Innovation, we were ecstatic to be invited to an interview with the judges. We were met by a team of four retired sexagenarian business professionals. A fifth judge joined the panel thirty minutes into our hour-long interview. The interview continued without a single opportunity for us to make a presentation of our product to the judges, as there was no audio-visual equipment made available. Knowing that the judges had not taken the time to log into the system with the User Account information provided as part of our submission, we came prepared with our own portable projector to give a demonstration but that opportunity was never presented.
On three separate occasions, we reminded the judges that as part of our submission, we had created a unique CUBE account to allow them an opportunity to review the cloud-based system. Despite having computers laid out in front of them, these senior gentlemen seemed more interested in telling us about their impressive resume of past accomplishments rather than utilizing the opportunity to access CUBE.
We left the room hoping that the judges would access CUBE or at least seek the guidance of a respected ICT professional to ensure that our claims were accurate.
A few weeks later, we were informed of a gala launching event at the Prime Minister’s official residence where the shortlist of nominees would be announced. Throughout this time, we continued to wait for the judges to take a look at our work by logging into the system to properly assess our product’s integrity using the information provided below:
CUBE HRMS keeps a log of all sign-in attempts and even records the IP address from which the user logged in. The system is also configured to send email notifications when selected users log in.
On the evening of the gala, based on our conversations with the judges, coupled with the fact that they nor anyone else at the Chamber Secretariat had reviewed CUBE, we could not help but infer that another company had been awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Innovation.
Despite being invited as a nominee, we were informed that we would be required to pay an admission fee of EC$250 per person to attend the awards “show”.
On the night of the awards, we were surprised and rather impressed with the creative use of technology with the likes of ICT guru Richmond Felix’s QR code ticket admission system. It was evident that the Chamber had greater interest in using technology to confirm admission payments than in assessing our innovative, technology-based submission. With the axiomatic role that technology is playing in the core business processes of local companies vying for the awards, does it not make sense to have people like Mr. Felix or individuals with relevant expertise represented on the judging panel?
Upon entry, we were directed to obtain seating towards the back of the room, only to realize that we were not provided with a table upon which to lay our drinks because we had not been able to pay for the use of a corporate table where champagne and wine were being served to privileged guests. We were also denied the use of one of the many tables that remained vacant throughout the evening.
As we sat there with our drinks on the floor, we wondered how much research went into the adjudication process of this entire event knowing that up until this moment not a single judge had taken the time to review our full submission. If the judges could not spare five minutes to review our submission in its entirety, did they verify the claims made by other nominees in this category? Did they drive to Soufriere to assess the hydroponics and honey production claims made by AnseChastanet/Jade Mountain? These unanswered questions were very demoralizing and brought a sense of consternation and disgust considering the time and resources spent to be part of this awards “show”.
We ask whether the awards event is a “show” because it is expected that the Chamber of Commerce will review ALL submissions in their entirety inclusive of supplementary material. This includes proper research which goes beyond a team of mostly retired judges deliberating in a room based solely on written words and eloquent speeches without confirming first-hand that the claims made in ALL submissions are accurate! After all, the Chamber itself states on its website that: “The adjudication process is rigorous but not cumbersome and not dependent on the financial capacity or size of the firm.”
Is it always about who writes the better story, knowing that no due diligence would be done to ascertain the verity of claims articulated on paper? Don’t we want to think about who creates the most value for local businesses and who could have the greatest economic impact and which products have the greatest export potential? Having seen first-hand the lack of due diligence, wouldn’t you also be led to question the authenticity and objectivity of the process?
After expressing our concerns to one of the judges on the evening of the awards, his response was even more discouraging to the point that we have made the decision NOT to participate in future “shows” until the Chamber improves its judging standards and can show a genuine interest in the honest and hard work of small businesses on the island. Without this guarantee of due process, it takes away from the credibility of the awards and does a disservice to all participants – including the awardees.