"Together, we're going to create enormous added value"
Interview with CEOs SIDN and Connectis
SIDN began the New Year boldly with the acquisition of Connectis, one of the Netherlands' biggest suppliers of secure log-in solutions. The two companies' CEOs – Roelof Meijer of SIDN and Martijn Kaag of Connectis – have been talking about the link-up. "What we have in common is great social engagement."
How difficult were the negotiations?
Roelof: "In every negotiation, there are moments when you wonder whether things are going to work out. But, actually, we were always in agreement about the substance of the deal, the broad outline. Considering that this is the first time that we've done anything like this and that it's quite a big deal, I think that things went very quickly. We started talking in September, and by December we had signed the papers." Martijn: "The idea of becoming part of a non-profit foundation took a little getting used to. Would that make us less agile, less businesslike? As soon as we began talking, though, I had to put my preconceptions aside. The people at SIDN aren't out-of-touch idealists. SIDN is a technically and commercially adept organisation. Nevertheless, we faced a challenge in that SIDN only wanted to buy 65 per cent of the shares. If the minority shareholder was going to be a profit-led enterprise, there could have been tensions. So we decided to transfer the rest of the shares to a new charitable foundation. The foundation's aim will be to fight inequalities of opportunity and promote social enterprise."Roelof: "The plan for relinquishing control of the minority holding seemed almost too good to be true. But it illustrates what a good match SIDN and Connectis are. What we have in common is great social engagement. Our cultures are similar; our mission statements could almost have been written by the same person. And what we have been doing with SIDN Fund, Martijn is now going to do with his foundation."
Was SIDN the only prospective buyer for Connectis?
Martijn: "Not at all. We had suitors queuing up."Roelof: "That was something that we had to take account of on our side, that delay could be fatal. And some of the rival bidders could offer more money. So it was tense."Martijn: "When choosing a buyer, we decided to go for maximum impact, rather than maximum financial gain. I'm confident that together, we're going to create enormous added value. This takeover will lead to continued digitisation of the care sector, to local authorities doing more on line, to reduced identity fraud and to international business getting easier. On top of that, all of the profits will go to support social initiatives."
How will the takeover benefit the two companies?
Roelof: "For SIDN, it's a huge step in our diversification strategy. It means we'll be able to deliver more added value for society and we'll be less dependent on .nl. In addition, we'll have the opportunity to make the internet in the Netherlands even more secure."Martijn: "The service that we provide is mission critical for our clients. That implies high continuity and reliability requirements. The deal associates us firmly with SIDN's dependable reputation and proven infrastructure. It also gives us increased financial stability. Another benefit is access to SIDN's contact network and all the growth potential that brings. SIDN can help us organisationally as well. We've been expanding very quickly, doubling in size year-on-year for several years in a row. That's both in terms of turnover and in terms of our workforce. Joining forces with SIDN opens the way for improving the way certain support functions are organised."
What changes can we expect in the period ahead?
Martijn: "Certain support functions will be transferred, or partially transferred, to SIDN. Things like HRM, administration, purchasing and legal. SIDN has specialists in those fields. After that, we'll be looking at ways of generating more synergy, in areas such as expertise and sales. Otherwise, it's business as usual. We will continue working as hard as we can to ensure that we are ready for all the developments taking place in the field of identification and authorisation. We aren't leaving our base in Rotterdam and we'll still be a separate business with our own clients. Not to mention our own organisational model. Because Connectis is a 'holacratic' organisation: we don't have managers, and everyone is free to do their job their own way. If we had sold out to a corporate, we probably couldn't have carried on that way."Roelof: "SIDN also has self-managing teams now. Holacracy takes that principle to another level. And it clearly works for Connectis. So I think there are things we can learn from them." Martijn: "For me personally, a great deal is going to change. I'm going to be focusing on technology and innovation, and letting go of my commercial responsibilities. We are currently looking for a new commercial leader who can keep Connectis on its present upward trajectory."
What was the response to the takeover?
Martijn: "People here at Connectis were very positive about it. Everyone understands why we can't remain independent. When the deal was announced, we got everyone together and looked back at the last ten years. It was quite emotional. We received various congratulatory messages from clients, but a few of them had questions as well. Would their account manager be changing… could they depend on the existing services continuing… that sort of thing. It wasn't hard to reassure them, though. We've also had some enthusiastic feedback from the political community. Connectis isn't a government entity, but its shareholders are now non-profit organisations. That's a big advantage in the context of the debate about the relationship between the state and private enterprise that is currently ongoing in parliament."Roelof: "When I made the internal announcement, everyone was really upbeat. We also informed our biggest registrars on a personal level, and the people we spoke to saw it mainly in terms of opportunities. Of course people also asked about the implications for the stability of .nl and SIDN's risk exposure. But they were very satisfied with our answers."
Where do you expect to be five years from now?
Martijn: "I expect us to be a successful social enterprise making a substantial impact on the community. In five years, we'll have connected the Netherlands to the world in the field of online identification. And our technology will be providing people with enhanced privacy."Roelof: "In terms of reliability, security, innovation and mass, .nl is already a great example to many other country-code domains. In five years' time, I believe that Connectis will have a similar status in the field of on-line identification and authorisation."
Supplier of secure log-in solutions
More than twelve million Dutch people use the Connectis infrastructure to log in with insurers, local governments and central government departments. Connectis has developed an innovative platform for secure log-ins, mobile authentication and interfacing with existing log-in systems, such as DigiD, eHerkenning, iDIN (Bank ID) and eIDAS. With eIDAS, users all across Europe can identify themselves securely on line.