At the heart of the internet
Before joining SIDN, Arjan Middelkoop enjoyed a successful career with several of the biggest companies in the Netherlands. So what attracted him to a much smaller organisation? "The corporates are great, but you easily find yourself on your own specialist island. I like to take a broader view. I'd reached a point where I wasn't doing enough of the things that energise me: developing new propositions and new markets… innovating. So I was on the lookout for something different. Although I'd heard of SIDN, I didn't really know anything about the company. But the more I found out, the more I liked the sound of it. SIDN seemed like a good place to work, with an expert team made up of very nice people. A company at the heart of the internet. A company with real ambition and an inspiring mission: to make digital living easier and safer for everyone. SIDN's ambition of creating value for internet users – which is the starting point for all its new activities – really appealed to me."
Arjan's first task at SIDN was to shape his team. "We've already made real progress. We've tightened things up and we now have a more agile operation, with a sharper focus and clearer role definitions." However, what he's really been brought in to do is generate new business. "Domain names are currently very important, but we can't be sure that they always will be. The boom period is already over. Diversification is therefore important, both for the continuity of SIDN and for the further growth of our added value. The company has been actively seeking to diversify for some time, but the efforts made in the past have lacked a clear sense of direction. What we've done therefore is look critically at each initiative. Does it support SIDN's mission? Is it unique and relevant? Is there sufficient growth potential to make a strong business case? On the basis of the conclusions, we are now devoting less attention to certain ideas, such as trust frameworks, and putting all our energy to others."
Know Who You're Dealing With
"On the basis of our mission, we've identified three fields where we believe there are real opportunities for SIDN: digital identities, digital security and digital usability," explains Arjan. In each of those fields, he sees SIDN as having two options. "One option is to devise new propositions and bring them to market ourselves. New services that we develop in house, such as Know Who You're Dealing With. That's a spinoff from the plans for .bv, which unfortunately had to be shelved because the Norwegian government withheld its agreement. The idea is to help consumers by letting them see who they're dealing with before they buy something on line. A webshop will be able to put a button on the site, which the visitor can click to bring up information about the company, gathered from various reliable sources and presented in the form of a handy summary. The service is currently being developed with a number of client panels, with a view to launching in 2017."
"The second option we have is targeted acquisition. That route can be attractive if it promises to get us where we want to go sooner. We are currently in talks with a firm that's active in the field of digital identities. And I have high hopes. We believe that there's real demand for practical identity management solutions for the internet. The market would welcome the involvement of a respected, independent player like SIDN, because people are wary of giving their personal details to commercial operators."
Partnership with registrars
But should the registry for .nl be embarking on such adventures at all? Some registrars have suggested that SIDN ought to confine itself to its core activities. They worry, for example, that quality standards may slip if SIDN's attentions are divided. Arjan doesn't believe that such fears are justified, however. "Everything that we do is about adding value for the internet community. Any profit generated by our activities is reinvested – in the development of the internet generally, but also specifically in .nl. Good management of the .nl zone is our primary task. Fulfilment of that task has to be assured absolutely. And I think we can say that we're doing well on that score: registrar satisfaction rose to 8.1 out of ten in 2016. What's more, continuity is just as relevant an issue for registrars as it is for us. If domain names become less important, that has direct implications for registrars' business models. The new propositions that we're developing are advantageous to registrars. They offer registrars up-selling and cross-selling opportunities. Wherever possible, we work in partnership with registrars. And SIDN has no wish to establish its own independent sales channel. Selling to end users is something that registrars can do much better than we can."
The coming year promises to be an exciting one, both for SIDN and for Arjan personally. "We are now pressing ahead with a number of new business projects. Twelve months from now, I'll count 2017 as a successful year only if we've established ourselves in a new market and maintained .nl's performance and registrar satisfaction levels. We also need to put plans in place for 2018, raise SIDN's profile and reinforce our partnership with the registrar community. From now on, I'll be spending one day a month visiting registrars. I'm looking forward to hearing their ideas for the future. In the meantime, anyone who wants to make a suggestion is more than welcome to drop me a line."
Got an idea that you want to run by Arjan? Feel free to get in touch by mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.