Rod Beckstrom has announced (via Twitter) that he’s leaving ICANN as of July 2012. Whether or not the decision was Beckstrom’s, the Board’s or mutual is their business. As the President and CEO of a ccTLD, my focus now is on Beckstrom’s replacement. Ten months is not that long to find the right person for the job, and it is now a very important job to fill.
While there has been much controversy regarding Beckstrom’s tenure, we can’t forget that ICANN accomplished a lot with Beckstrom at the helm. Though it’s true that many of these initiatives have been underway for years, it was under his watch that many of them were either completed or there was significant progress made.
Consider the approval of Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs), new generic top-level domains, signing the Affirmation of Commitments forward (even if not as far as many would like) and you realize that some important work was completed in the past few years. And, Beckstrom’s work isn’t done yet – let’s not forget that the IANA contract with the U.S. government – the agreement that gives ICANN the authority to coordinate the DNS – is up for renewal in March, four months before his announced July departure.
For what it’s worth, the following are some of the major challenges I think ICANN’s new leader will face.
The hurdle the new ICANN CEO will face is to take the organization to the next level of operational, organizational maturity – all of this in the face of increasing criticism, threats to its existence and hostility.
If ICANN is to remain at the core of the governance and coordination of the Internet, it needs to come a long way in a very short period of time. One of the first steps, in my opinion, will be to enhance ICANN’s communications and marketing activities to effectively get its message out to its stakeholders. There’s no use in implementing a vision if you don’t have the means, the creativity and the capability to tell people about it. And it is absolutely essential to fostering an open and transparent culture – something that has never been up to par in ICANN’s history.
In my opinion, the next CEO will have to not only defend the multi-stakeholder model of governance, but will have to become its ambassador and advocate as well. The Internet governance world is at a crossroads and the next leader will have to make sure we all follow the right path. What does this mean? That he or she will be diplomatic in approach and a consensus builder (especially after the last few years of rocky relationships).
They will have to be able to work with – and stand up to – those whose actions are not in the best interest of the Internet. They will have to get out there and promote the multi-stakeholder model as the most effective and efficient one to run a dynamic entity like the Internet. They will have to be present at events like regional and national Internet governance fora, the UN-coordinated Internet Governance Forum, and the International Telecommunication Union. In short, they will have to defend the multi-stakeholder model to those who would rather see a treaty-based approach to governing the Internet.
All of this will depend on building a solid foundation at ICANN.
The leadership team is not fully built yet. Currently, there’s no CFO and ICANN’s internal/external reporting needs a significant tune-up. A real team needs to be built at the highest levels, and processes that have been sorely lacking – such as reporting – need to be put in place to ensure the rest of us (Registries, Registrars, governments, the private sector, academia, and so on) are comfortable moving forward with ICANN as we move into the next phase of the Internet’s development. There needs to be a significant realignment of organizational priorities with a focus on relationship building and maintenance, as well as on stakeholder communications. ICANN has been around for almost 13 years. It’s time it started operating like the mature organization it needs to be.
Fundamentally, there have been a number of great accomplishments, but now is the time to really put them into effect, execute them and gain support and buy-in from the rest of us. The next leader will have to be a doer – someone who can be diplomatic, but think strategically and execute on the ground.
What do you think? What challenges will ICANN’s next leader face? What skills will they require to succeed?
In the meantime ICANN, and its CEO Rod Beckstrom, will need the communities’ support as it moves forward on some of these major endeavours.