27 June 2017 by Henry Ker
Brian Stafford talks to Governance and Compliance about the recent acquisition of BoardPad and Blueprint OneWorld from ICSA, investing in R&D, and the gap in security around board-level information
Brian Stafford is CEO of Diligent Corporation.
Diligent is a pretty broad international company. Our headquarters are in New York, and now with the BoardPad and Blueprint OneWorld transaction, our office in London is about the same size as our New York office. We have a big operation in Australia, and do most of our product development in Christchurch, New Zealand, and we also have offices in Singapore and Hong Kong.
In my previous role as a partner at McKinsey, international clients were standard for most of our business. I spent a lot of time working with clients in the UK, continental Europe, Asia, China, Japan, South Africa, and so on. So it has been great transitioning to a company with such a wide global footprint, because I probably would have missed that if Diligent did not have it.
We have more than doubled in size, both from a revenue perspective and headcount. We have added talent to the team and grown from a small software company into a much larger one.
We have reinforced our management and now have a team that has ‘been there, done that’, as opposed to a team that only had experience of running a start-up. Diligent now has a set of experienced managers focused on delivering great value to our clients.
We have also increased our spending on research and development by more than 50% since I joined two years ago. We believed there was a huge opportunity to invest more in our products and to take what we consider to be the leading product in the market and make it even better. We have put our money where our mouth is and really ramped up investment.
The biggest challenges are, I think, setting a new course and helping to push the boundaries of innovation with our products. Our products are an area of passion for us as the largest company in this space, and we need to keep investing the same percentage of our revenue in R&D. We have a large number of developers – more than 100 now – working on products.
We aspire to build a broader suite of applications that meet the needs of board members and corporate secretaries, taking the best of any company we acquire and building those attributes into the overall product and then expanding from there.
We have admired both companies for some time, having been in the same market and working with similar clients. On the BoardPad side, it is a product we know very well and we thought there were a lot of great things that we could bring to the Diligent product and deliver an even better combined solution.
On the Blueprint OneWorld side, when meeting many of our clients and talking to their corporate secretaries, we increasingly heard about how they use Blueprint. We saw a great opportunity to take a hallmark product, used by many corporate secretaries, and to do some of the same things we did at Diligent, for example, investing strongly in R&D.
We are really excited about being able to offer a broader set of solutions that meet the needs of corporate secretaries and board members. And we look at Blueprint OneWorld as the first exciting next step in that direction and in the potential growth we can bring to it.
With that broader offering, we will build some of those products ourselves, and in other cases, if we find market-leading products, we will also look to acquire them and offer them to our clients.
The things our clients seem to appreciate most about Diligent is product quality, its usability, and our customer service. We have won several customer service award within the software-as-a-service industry and we aspire to deliver that same level of customer service to BoardPad and Blueprint OneWorld clients. We want to be the most trusted partner for company secretaries everywhere.
Maintaining and extending our very important relationship with ICSA was one of the things that was paramount in the transaction. Diligent has had a relationship with ICSA for some time now – we have attended many ICSA conferences, and we intend to build an even more privileged relationship with the institute through the BoardPad and Blueprint transaction.
A secure software solution for boardrooms is essential. For many companies it started out as a product of convenience for board members, company secretaries and administrators. Now, I think, it’s become a ‘must have’ for all companies, large and small.
Some of a company’s most sensitive material goes to users who sit outside the firewall. Board members receive and send information, in many cases, via free email service providers like Gmail, AOL, Yahoo, and so on, and they are using that material on personal devices over which the company has no control if they are lost or stolen.
Many companies realise this is not good enough. They ensure the security of all material their employees come into contact with, and they really have to do the same with their board members, too.
Diligent has rapidly evolved from just a single board tool to something much broader that can begin to meet the needs of corporate secretaries and boards more holistically. We have branched into other tools that help directors’ collaboration, such as a secure email and messaging service. We also enable access via any device, including smartphones, so they do not have to rely on free email service providers.
We have also extended into other tools beneficial for corporate secretaries and boards, such as board evaluation, which is a requirement for most publicly-listed companies and strongly encouraged for all others.
Our tool is integrated into the Diligent platform and enables corporate secretary teams to streamline the creation, distribution and analysis of any type of evaluation. Board members are then able to complete the necessary evaluations on-the-go, across any device of their choosing.
Another point I would add about security is that the board, and ultimately the audit committee, is being used as a watchdog for the company’s security. It enforces the constantly evolving and increasingly important role governance plays in security policies, and I would say it still surprises me that many large or medium-sized companies do not place the same emphasis on security for their board members as they do for the rest of the company.
There is an ongoing need for board members and the company to practise what they preach, and we hope Diligent, and other players, can make it easier for board members to comply with secure communication.
GDPR is an issue of premier importance for both corporate secretaries and boards, and a subject we continually talk to our clients about. We help make sure clients are vigilant and aware of all the issues where they need to ensure they are compliant. We are excited to present and talk more about this at the ICSA Conference.
ICSA Annual Conference
Diligent will present ‘Brace for impact: Why the GDPR should remain at the top of directors’ agendas’ at this year’s Annual Conference. For more information, visit the ICSA website.