A message from CIRA's president and CEO:
What a year. When FY21 started, the global pandemic had just begun; there was uncertainty, fear, and real questions about whether the internet was ready to handle the pressure to become the lifeboat for our society.
A little more than a year later, there’s cautious optimism on the horizon. We’ve learned some valuable lessons about our society, and in many ways have reinforced what we have known all along—the internet is a critical resource for our country.
FY21 was a year where the planning, operational excellence, and strategic direction that CIRA has been putting in place for the past few years allowed the organization to not only withstand the storm of the pandemic but take advantage of the opportunities it presented. Overnight, virtually everything CIRA does, builds, or advocates for became among the most critical resources and issues for our country as Canadians began working, learning, teaching, and socializing online by the millions.
Everything flows back to CIRA’s FY21-FY25 strategic plan, which was developed using the multi-stakeholder model that has served the internet so well since its inception. Built in consultation with a wide range of staff, board members, registrars, and, of course, our members, the strategic plan is CIRA’s roadmap to deliver on our goal, a trusted internet for Canadians, and identifies four key pillars of the organization—.CA stewardship, product expansion, community investment and organizational enablement.
But a plan is only part of the equation. Success lies in transforming plans into execution. And here, too, CIRA shone in FY21. With oversight from our diverse and expert board, CIRA’s FY21 operational plan was instrumental to the successful year we had, with staff and stakeholders working together to support Canadians online.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been challenges for CIRA in the past year. Like everyone else, we’ve had to adapt how we work – not just within our virtual walls, but also how we work with our external partners and stakeholders. For an organization focused on digital Canada, we’ve come to realize how much of our business is actually human, face-to-face, and in-person: from our work on global internet governance, to speaking at conferences, to business development meetings. We may have pivoted, but we are looking forward to a return to some normalcy in these areas.
Being the stewards of the .CA domain name put us in the position of managing one of the hottest commodities over the past year as thousands of Canadian small businesses pivoted online to adapt to pandemic lockdowns and react to Canadians’ increased demand for e-commerce and digital services. This increased demand led to the most successful year for .CA registrations in CIRA’s history as we surpassed three million domains under management.
However, I would only be telling half the story if I didn’t acknowledge the tremendous amount of work and planning put in place by the CIRA team to position .CA as the domain of choice for Canadians. FY21 was the second year of the Domain Squad multi-channel advertising campaign, which saw the squad regroup at their forest headquarters to promote the value of .CA domains for Canadian businesses. The centrepiece of this campaign was four 15-second commercials featured on broadcast TV, digital TV, YouTube, and social media throughout the year, which continued the bold, humorous, and provocative tone needed to break through in a crowded media environment.
Recognizing the difficulty some small businesses faced in pivoting quickly online to endure pandemic lockdowns, CIRA also partnered with Digital Main Street to provide 3000 .CA domains to its ShopHERE program, which supports entrepreneurs, artists and makers who are moving online for the first time.
One of the side effects of having Canada’s entire economy and society move online overnight is that it creates a lot of opportunities for cyber thieves. A trusted internet for Canadians means not having your network locked up by a ransomware attack or your personal data leaked to the dark web. CIRA recognized years ago that our global DNS footprint and internal security expertise put us in an ideal position to protect Canadians online. Fast forward to today, and now more than three million Canadians across schools, hospitals, municipalities, businesses, and households are now protected by CIRA cybersecurity products.
Similarly, our expertise in running the .CA registry has opened up opportunities to assist other domain registries in providing their back-end infrastructure. The CIRA Registry Platform completed the onboarding of .IE, the country code of Ireland, and welcomed our friends from New Zealand, .NZ, to the family this year. We continue to pursue expansion in the TLD space and are working toward creating a community of like-minded registries to reinvent the way domains are managed. With a goal to hit 25 per cent of CIRA’s overall revenue by FY25, our product expansion strategy is already well on its way to success.
Investing in our community is, in many ways, the heart of CIRA. Since 2014, CIRA has invested $7.95 million through our grants program to support projects, academics and community groups working to improve Canada’s internet. That work came into sharp focus this year as the rural-urban digital divide became a key issue in the media, the halls of government, and most importantly, for the thousands of rural, Indigenous, and remote communities who require quality internet access to participate fully in the digital economy. CIRA was proud to support this initiative through our Internet Performance Test, which was leveraged by many groups, communities and governments to identify gaps in broadband coverage and advocate for more investment in infrastructure.
Our commitment to a better internet community also extends to the "real" world, and the environment we live in. In FY21, CIRA developed its first ever environmental sustainability strategy. The first step was to evaluate CIRA's current greenhouse gas emissions, which are largely grouped in three areas: employee commuting, business travel as a result of CIRA's participation in global internet governance and technical fora, and operations (such as emissions from data centres around the globe). Through FY22, CIRA will set targets for carbon reduction, and will begin implementing changes within its corporate processes to achieve them.
Finally, while the pandemic provided a lift to many of CIRA’s activities, our success was more than just timing; it came due to the hard work, planning, and innovation of our people. Working under trying circumstances, CIRA staff demonstrated the resilience, poise, ingenuity and drive that helped the organization make the most of this unprecedented time.
A key element of our success was the culture CIRA has been intentional in building and worked hard to maintain in a remote environment. We were pleased once again to be named a Best Employer in Canada by Kincentric, as well as a top employer in the National Capital Region by Canada’s Top Employers. In short, our people are the core of our culture, and even though we were not together in person for FY21, that culture continues to thrive.
With FY21 now behind us, I’d encourage everyone who makes CIRA what it is – our staff, our members, our volunteers – to take a second and reflect on all that we accomplished over the past fiscal year.
I would also like to thank the members of CIRA’s board, particularly our chair, Helen McDonald, for her support and leadership. The board places a lot of effort into ensuring that CIRA is governed with sufficient oversight and the right tools in place to make sure we’re delivering on our strategic objectives.
As I write this FY21 review, FY22 is well under way. While many of our FY21 successes continue, we must also stand by to pivot again, adjust to the new realities coming to being as the world emerges from the worst of the pandemic. We are seeing signs of economic uncertainty and as we predicted, less registrations of .CA domains. While we may have more hope than we did in April 2020, we – like everyone else – are also a little battle weary. As we continue to face significant uncertainty about the road to a post-pandemic world, CIRA will need to remain vigilant and be ready to continue adapt to these new realities in order to continue enabling a trusted internet for Canadians.
I look forward to sharing more about what lies ahead for the organization at our annual general meeting in September.
President and CEO, CIRA