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Reflecting on CIRA’s FY14-16 strategic plan

By Byron Holland
President and CEO

Read about CIRA’s FY14-16 strategic plan

In the final months of 2012, CIRA’s board of directors convened to approve an ambitious vision for what a modern country code top level domain (ccTLD) could be. We were facing new threats from a maturing market and unprecedented deregulation. This was before nearly 1000 new generic top level domains (gTLDs) flooded the market and before the global Internet community had fully grasped the realities of the impending IANA transition.

In our FY14-16 strategic plan, we worked to predict this future. We did not have a crystal ball, but we were armed with the best modeling (contained in killer spreadsheets) combined with deep industry insights gained from a team of staff that was committed to building a vibrant domain industry in Canada.

Three years later, we’re now living the realities of the future we worked to predict.  The early moves we made have allowed CIRA to enter our next strategic plan with a swagger that is reserved for the top handful of leading ccTLDs.

With the advantage of hindsight, and setting aside my natural Canadian humility, there are a few important wins that I want to call out.

The domain industry has been rocked by the entry of close to a thousand new domain extensions. Ahead of the introduction of these new top-level domains, CIRA launched a large-scale marketing and communication campaign to raise the profile of .CA domains in Canada. We worked with Registrars to improve our joint marketing efforts and ensure that Canadians keep .CA top of mind. We’re helping our channel partners bring great domains to more and more Canadian customers, many of whom are getting online for the first time. We know there is a headroom in the Canadian domain market (we have lower per-capita domain penetration than much of Europe) and Canadian registrars are now well-positioned to seize this business opportunity.

These efforts have helped CIRA continue to be one of the fastest-growing legacy top-level domains and since 2013, .CA has consistently outpaced average ccTLD growth.

We took an intentional step to diversify our product offering, building on our expertise in DNS and Registry operations to launch the D-Zone Anycast DNS service, and begin creating CIRA’s Registry Services product offerings. We didn’t stumble into new markets. We assessed our areas of expertise, recruited top talent, invested in technology, and worked to build new links with customers. We’ve built our first sales team and we’ve worked to enable and reward innovation and ingenuity across our organization.

This was hard work (and it’s still a slog), but we’re encouraged by the customer traction that we’re seeing. Where a year ago we were a single-product company, today we have 60 enterprise customers for our secondary DNS service. Our service brings these customers a more resilient experience for their Canadian users, while also helping to build a safer Internet ecosystem, as more customers invest in the  hygiene of their DNS.

This has all meant a significant culture shift for CIRA, but one that is bearing fruit. We’ve been recognized by AON Hewitt’s Best Employer rankings for two consecutive years and we’ve consistently listed at the top of rankings of National Capital employers.

We haven’t built this business in a vacuum; we’ve been quick to respond to the needs of the Canadian Internet community.

We’ve invested more than $2 million in non-profit organizations working to build a better online Canada, with another million coming in 2016. We’ve collected more than 150,000 network performance tests from Canadians interested in how their Internet connections are performing. We’ve helped to create a robust IXP network in Canada and we’re the lead voice in the chorus of Internet advocates now pointing to the transformative power that these exchanges can have on local Internet markets.

We’ve also extended this leadership globally. In 2014, as the global Internet governance community readied itself for the end of the U.S. government’s traditional oversight role of the IANA functions, CIRA played a key role in guiding the IANA transition and ensuring that Canadian interests were represented in global discussions on Internet governance.

I was pleased to serve as Chair of the ccNSO, helping to guide the ccTLD community in shaping the final IANA proposal and concurrent improvements to ICANN’s accountability. We advocated for a proposal that would continue to ensure the safety, security and stability of the Internet going forward, while preserving the unique position of country code managers like CIRA within the Internet ecosystem. We have also worked closely with the Government of Canada throughout this process, and in other fora, to ensure that the Canada as a whole is well-represented in the larger debates on Internet governance issues at venues such as the UN General Assembly.

We’ve helped ensure that the world understands and accepts Canada’s vision for a free, open and inter-operable Internet. CIRA has gained a respected and influential international profile among our peers, and across the industry – enabling us to elevate Canadian interests and help support Internet leaders in Canada as they bring their concerns to a global audience.

The CIRA board of directors deserves recognition for their forethought and the entire CIRA team deserves well-earned appreciation for their ability to fulfill the FY14-16 strategic plan, while also embracing new global opportunities.

This work can be challenging, but the team at CIRA has embraced a changing market with grace and humility, learning from experience and responding to our community’s new and emerging needs. Many of our team have been working in the sector for years and have made supporting the domain industry in Canada the focus of their career. Newer recruits have added fresh perspectives and the skills necessary to attack new challenges. It’s been a winning combination for CIRA and high-performing talent remains a key foundation of our success.

Our new four-year strategic plan is no less ambitious, and no less visionary. Our plan is one of moonshot goals and it’s no coincidence that we’ve displayed this image throughout the report.

We have an opportunity to build on the foundation we laid over the last few years, and create a better Internet – one that will help foster Canada’s social, cultural and economic development and elevate our position in the global digital economy. The CIRA team has proven that we can deliver on ambitious goals and I can’t think of a better place to focus their efforts than building a better online Canada.

About the author
Byron Holland

Byron Holland (MBA, ICD.D) is the president and CEO of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), the national not-for-profit best known for managing the .CA domain and developing new cybersecurity, DNS, and registry services.

Byron is an expert in internet governance and a seasoned entrepreneur. Under Byron’s leadership, CIRA has become one of the leading ccTLDs in the world, with over 3 million domains under management. Over the past decade, he has represented CIRA internationally and held numerous leadership positions within ICANN. He currently sits on the Board of Directors for TORIX, and is a member of the nominations committee for ARIN. He lives in Ottawa with his wife, two sons, and their Australian shepherd, Marley.

The views expressed in this blog are Byron’s opinions on internet-related issues, and are not necessarily those of the organization.