‘Tech-arrogant’ company soothes client concerns

At a customer get-together held in Toronto last month, Entrust Technologies Inc. took a break from discussing privacy issues to address concerns its customers had voiced over the past year.

Bill Conner, chairperson, president and CEO of the software and security -services company, was on hand to speak to customers about what he thought were their most pressing concerns. He assured attendees that the issues the company has heard from customers over the past year have been dealt with.

He added that Entrust hired a third party to survey its clients in order to get more feedback.

“We’ve improved dramatically according to you, but much is still expected,” Conner said during his presentation at the event. “While we’ve improved dramatically, we still have a long way to go to meet all [our customers] needs in all areas.”

Conner said that much of the feedback Entrust heard over the past year was that the company’s technology was difficult to deploy and use. He also said that customers have labelled Entrust as being a “technology-arrogant company.” After reviewing the results, Conner said Entrust is taking steps to overhaul that image.

According to Toronto-based Warren Shiau, a software analyst with IDC Canada Ltd., that reputation stems from the approach the company took when it started out, versus the approach of its competitor, Mountain View, Calif.-based VeriSign Inc.

Shiau said that the main difference between the two companies is vastly different business models. VeriSign based their business on selling services around authentication software, public key infrastructure (PKI) software. “Not around the actual licence revenue from that software itself,” Shiau said.

Entrust went the opposite way and focused on the software licensing revenue, he said. “So you had a situation where VeriSign was building up a trust base with the people it was working with.…At first [they] weren’t pulling in the blockbuster licence deals but [instead were] getting a steadier stream of revenue, whereas Entrust was going for the blockbuster licences,” Shiau added.

When the market started softening up, however, Shiau said it was easy to see the advantages of VeriSign’s approach.

“Entrust started running into trouble…because they didn’t have this buildup of their business focus around services. So when they say they are regarded as a technology-centric firm and people thought that there were problems implementing a total solution, I think that assessment is correct,” Shiau said.

He added that although Entrust has started to address its problems, they still have a long way to go before they can say they have been solved. “It’s not as if the issue has disappeared,” Shiau said.

Entrust also discussed the role of digital signatures in secure identity management. Officials discussed in detail the company’s recently announced partnership with Austin, Tex.-based Waveset Technologies Inc., a provider of secure identities management products. The firms’ joint Secure Identity Management Solution, released in April, uses a variety of applications, including digital signatures, to ensure that sensitive or confidential information such as corporate e-mail can’t be tampered with.

“If you are making business decisions based on information, it’s important to know who is sending the e-mail,” said Ian Curry, chief marketing officer at Entrust.

According to Entrust, the solution to this problem is the digital signature. If an e-mail bearing a digital signature was corrupted in transit, the recipient would be informed immediately by a message stating that the e-mail had been altered by someone other than the sender. For this reason, Curry said the digital signature is a must for every organization.

“There is no other way to replace the hand-based signature in the electronic world…because what you end up with is a secure piece of data that represents the transaction that binds the signer to that piece of data,” Curry said. “You can store that piece of data in a back-end server in a database and you can call it up any time and verify those signatures.”

Curry added that, in some ways, the digital signature has a leg up on the more traditional paper-based methods of doing business, methods that are easily tampered with.

E-business services provider Teranet Inc., based in Toronto, was on hand during the event to talk about its history with Entrust and to discuss the different Entrust security solutions the company uses.

Don Fusco, channel manager at Teranet, said secure technology like the digital signature has saved many of his clients time and money. Many of Teranet’s clients are real estate lawyers who, traditionally, have had to spend much of their time at land registry offices while verifying or closing deals.

Now, with the digital signature, along with the company’s Teraview gateway application