Piet Spiessens says goodbye as chairman of our board of directors after 20 years. Curious about his new plans, we sat down with him. A farewell interview.
When did you start as chairman of the board of directors at DNS Belgium?
I'll have to look that up :) Apparently it was back in 2003, shortly after I joined the board of directors as a representative of ISPA Belgium. That's a frightfully long time ago. It is also actually the reason why I felt it was time to pass the torch on to someone else. Twenty years is a long time to assume the position of chairman.
How have you seen DNS Belgium develop as an organisation over the past 20 years?
The growth has been tremendous, of course. In 2003, we had some 250,000 domain names under management. Now there are 1.75 million - seven times that figure. Meanwhile, operational costs have been kept under control. With a sevenfold increase in the number of domain names, the costs have only doubled, which is a sign of good management of the organisation. Especially if we factor in inflation over 20 years.
DNS Belgium registered impressive achievements, such as the ISO 27001 certification but also recently the SDG Championship.
A few things have stuck out to me from the past 20 ears. I would like to cite four of them:
- DNS Belgium tried to make domain names more relevant to Belgian companies but also to individuals from the onset. Almost 20 years ago, this started with big campaigns and billboards, but also special campaign sites such as ikbenjan.be (iamjohn), to show that a domain name was also interesting for private individuals. That was a successful campaign. The number of domain names got a boost. This slowed down again later, but growth picked up at that point.
- The launch of Eurid, a major undertaking for DNS Belgium, was also very important. That important initiative was set up together with two other national registries: Sweden and Czechia. That successful consortium manages the .eu domain names. And we are still part of Eurid to this day.
- The organisation has become much more professional. DNS Belgium has registered impressive achievements, such as the ISO 27001 certification but also recently the SDG Championship: that attests to a great level of professionalism, which has strongly increased in the past 2 decades.
- In the early years of DNS Belgium, cooperation with Close the Gap came quickly. We devoted a lot of ressources to that. Recently, that has grown into Digital for Youth. Both are really wonderful initiatives: one gives laptops to Third World countries (Close the Gap), the other to underpriviliged youth in our own country (formerly PC Solidarity, and now via Digital for Youth). This is very valuable. It was impossible to do such things very long ago, because the resources just weren't there.
Digital for Youth is a wonderful initiative where laptops are given to underprivileged young people in Belgium. This is very valuable. It was impossible to do such things very long ago, because the resources just weren't there.
What do you think should be the core task of the board of directors at DNS Belgium? Where are there still challenges to be made?
In general, a board of directors should be responsible for the strategic leadership of the organisation, monitoring the finances (which Peter Ryckaert has done for a long time) and also for maintaining relationships with the main stakeholders. These include new members.
One of the most important tasks or challenges remains making sure that the representation of those stakeholders is broad enough. We have done a lot of work on that. We once started with 3 founding members: ISPA, Agoria and Beltug. Today, there are 8 representative organisations or members on the board of directors and BIPT is also there, in an advisory capacity. That is already quite broad and yet it remains a concern: we need to bring together the main parties of the Belgian Internet in our board of directors. Or they should at least be represented on it. By the way, I recognize and support the comments Peter gave earlier about the composition and diversity of the board of directors.
What does your ideal board of directors look like, what are its constituent profiles? Which ones are currently missing?
We do not hear the voice of the end user on the board of directors at this time, and that is something that is lacking. It is difficult to find the right representative. In some boards they appeal to TestAchats, but that does not apply to us. In other countries, registries add ISOC, but that organisation is not active yet in Belgium. Otherwise, there is a good balance, one that ensures broad representation on the board.
We do not hear the voice of the end user on the board of directors at this time, and that is something that is lacking. It is difficult to find the right representative.
What does this board of directors best watch out for, what is a possible pitfall?
DNS Belgium is a non-profit organisation, and the board has to ensure that it remains so. That is why that versatility and stakeholder representation on the board of directors is so important.
We have a special role in the internet landscape in Belgium: we are the sole manager of .be domain names. That is why we have to be neutral. We cannot favour one particular party or group over others.
The best proof of our neutrality is the number of registrars - there are almost 400. In addition to the major operators, there are also medium-sized and small providers taking part in the domain name business. The fact that BIPT is part of the board of directors is also a guarantee of correct management. We follow the regulations as a neutral party.
We have to use the financial resources wisely, and here too the board plays an active role. We help estimate how many resources are needed and take decisions when they are insufficient. These are the fascinating discussions. The board of directors helps guard the balance in DNS Belgium.
Diversity among the board members is important, especially in financial discussions. That way it doesn't become an economic story, where DNS Belgium suddenly starts offering new services.
If you were to give Peter a piece of advice, what would it be?
I can't give Peter much advice, he has headed the financial committee. He knows DNS Belgium inside out. I am convinced he will do a fine job as chairman.
What are your ambitions? How will you spend this extra free time?
To be perfectly clear: I am not saying goodbye to DNS Belgium and will happily remain an active member of the Board of Directors. At Eurid, we needed to find a successor to Professor Verbaeten, for which I put myself forward as a candidate. In the meantime, I am the official representative of DNS Belgium on the strategic committee there. There won't be much time freed up :)