The cream of the crop rose quickly this year. In the first round of voting for this year\u2019s Enterprise Value Awards, the clear winners emerged right away. As the panel\u2019s attention turned to the remaining candidates, the debate began in earnest. n The obvious winners had set a high standard. Would the other finalists measure up? One posted a strong financial return on investment, but its benefits had accrued only internally. Another was innovative but hadn\u2019t yet achieved its promise. Then, minutes into the hour-long debate came the critical question that defined this year\u2019s honorees: "Do we want to say the winning system really needs to be creating value in a strategic way?" asked Peter Solvik, senior vice president and CIO of Cisco Systems in San Jose, Calif. "We\u2019re pretty much saying it has to be strategic." Solvik was one of five independent judges, all current and former CIOs, who determined the award winners. His conclusion speaks volumes about the impact that information technology has on business today. So fundamental is IT to a company\u2019s success that when we recognize systems that are "the best of the best," in the words of judge Patricia Wallington, a former CIO of Xerox, they are those that enable a company to reach new heights. Identifying these leading examples of IT excellence is no easy task. The final judging session, held last October in Boston\u2019s historic Faneuil Hall, is the culmination of a four-month process of reading applications, validating the finalists\u2019 claims and choosing winners.Beginning in June, CIO editors, along with a review board of seven IT practitioners and consultants, reviewed nearly 3 dozen entries from companies in a wide range of industries. After several weeks, the group had winnowed the field to 11 finalists. Applicants made this first cut if they met the basic entry criteria. Their system had to have been deployed for at least two years, and they had to demonstrate its benefits for the entire enterprise.Throughout the summer, review board members and editors crisscrossed the country, visiting the finalists to see how they used the nominated systems. The review board grilled business users about the value the systems brought to their organizations and pressed executives to justify the results they claimed on their applications. When it came time for the final judging, the review board members gave presentations about the finalists they visited, adding details about the systems and their impact. One of the judges, Gregor Bailar, CIO and senior vice president of the National Association of Securities Dealers in Trumbull, Conn., says the site visits validated whether entrants have told the truth in their applications and ensured projects weren\u2019t evaluated "in a vacuum."Review board members "really push the applicant to take a hard look at what they\u2019ve come up with to express the value [of their system] to the business," says Richard Swanborg, founder and president of Boston-based research group ICEX and Enterprise Value Awards cochair (with CIO Editor-in-Chief Abbie Lundberg). Because the review board takes a detailed look at how IT creates value, they have helped the judges hone the criteria used to make their decisions. "They give feedback on how criteria should change," says Swanborg, as the contribution of IT evolves.The judges made their choices?three winners and two honorable mentions. In doing so, they drew on the evidence presented to them and their own experiences delivering value through IT. While the core criteria on which the judges assessed the finalists (see "What Makes a Winner?" Page 140) was similar to that of previous years, the level of value the applicants had to demonstrate reflected current thinking about what IT excellence means.The winners had to at least equal, if not surpass, the accomplishments of past victors. What is defined one year as exemplary soon becomes a model to emulate and quickly thereafter becomes the norm. So with each round of awards, the bar for future applicants is set a little higher. "The point of the award is to acknowledge excellence," says judge John Glaser, vice president and CIO of the Boston-based Partners HealthCare System. "It ought to say that if you want to be around over time, you\u2019d better get [to where the winners are]. Raising the bar is good because it is where the bar [should be]." nApplication forms for the 2002 CIO Enterprise Value Awards will be in future issues of CIO and on our website at www.cio.com\/eva. Deadline for entry is June 15. For more information, contact Special Projects Assistant Tina Sousa at 508 935-4630 or via e-mail at email@example.com.The Review BoardJim McGee, Partner, Diamond Technology Partners; Mary Silva Doctor, Executive Director, ICEX; Sheila J. Smith, Managing Partner, Omega Point Consulting; John Storck, Professor, Boston University; Virginia Reck, Executive Vice President, Kendall Consulting Group; Madeline Weiss, President, Weiss Associates Inc., and Richard Swanborg, President, ICEX, 2001 Enterprise Value Awards cochair.What Makes a Winner?This year\u2019s Enterprise Value Awards judges describe the factors that determined the course of their decisionsImaginationJohn Glaser, vice president and CIO, Partners HealthCare System"[They had] very thoughtful, insightful and very imaginative understandings of not only where they are today but also where they want to be in the future."InnovationPatricia Wallington, president, CIO Associates, and former CIO of Xerox "They were first in their industries to try something."strategic impactDoug Barker, vice president and CIO, The Nature Conservancy "In all cases, IT was part of an integrated business strategy."ResultsPeter Solvik senior vice president and CIO, Cisco Systems "You have to show linkage between what business result the technology capability enabled and the connection of that result to the success of the company."TransformationGregor Bailar, CIO and senior vice president, National Association of Securities Dealers"There\u2019s a fundamental change in the way their industries are working because of what they\u2019ve done."