BUSINESS: Escrow Europe Achieves Prestigious ISO 9001 Certification
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Escrow Europe (Pty) Ltd, the leading provider of escrow services in South Africa, has achieved the ISO 9001:2008 quality certification standard as set out by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
As a neutral and independent third party, Escrow Europe primarily guards business-critical intellectual property such as software source code, but also important databases, industrial designs, specifications and so on. The services it provides are vital in today’s technology-driven business environment because they elegantly and cost-effectively mitigate the operational risk associated with dependency on software that the company does not own.1
Without an active software escrow agreement in place, the only other way a company can protect its investment in software in the event its supplier is no longer able to support it is to purchase a source code licence, usually via an outrageously high licence fee. As one of the directors of Hollard recently put it: ‘the need for escrow protection as a cost effective part of proper operational risk management is a no brainer’.
Even prior to its ISO certification, Escrow Europe stood out from most other escrow agents because it concentrates entirely on active escrow, in other words escrows including both contractual verification of every deposit as well as tracking of updates and new releases. This ensures that the quality of the material on deposit is such that the deposit material will be useful to you should it be required in the event of a release condition. By contrast, ‘passive’ escrow offers no assurance that the code on deposit is present and correct – the deposit media might even be a blank CD for all you know and therefore “passive” escrow cannot qualify as an adequate risk management measure.
Escrow Europe director, Andrew Stekhoven, said the company’s ISO quality management system certification was an important milestone in operational risk management on many levels:
- For Escrow Europe it represents a significant investment and confirms the company’s commitment to the highest quality escrow service delivery on a world-class basis.
- For its clients, it affirms that they have selected to partner with a best-of-breed escrow service provider; and provides additional assurance that their investment in business-critical intellectual property and technology is protected in a manner that guarantees they will be able to continue functioning should their suppliers no longer able to support the technology.
- For their depositors it provides reassurance that their “crown jewels” are being subject to high quality, consistent, safekeeping standards.
- For South Africa’s business community, it sends a very powerful message to an international audience about its commitment to good corporate governance and operational risk management.
“Escrow Europe is committed to total customer satisfaction on all levels, including by quality of product and service, reliability, and performance. Implementing an ISO quality management system, which is designed to assist in improving business performance and productivity through greater focus on business objectives and customer requirements, was a logical decision for us,” he said.
“We’re delighted to have achieved certification, because it highlights our belief in quality assurance and continuous improvement. Our clients, too, are very pleased because it affirms their trust in our capabilities. We are certain that we all – Escrow Europe and our clients – will reap the rewards of ISO certification in the months and years ahead.”
For ISO 9001:2008 certification, Escrow Europe was evaluated on its commitment to continuous quality management and improvement of its quality management system specifically as this applies to the business of escrow protection. This is a stricter certification than previously available.
According to Alistair Corder of LCT Solutions, the company that designed and implemented Escrow Europe’s quality management system (QMS), what sets the ISO 9001:2008 standard apart from previous ISO 9001 versions is that the QMS implemented and certified must relate specifically to the company’s business, as opposed to being a general, albeit best practice, system.
He said: “Broadly defined, a QMS consists of an organisational structure, together with the planning, processes, resources and documentation that are required to achieve the quality objectives and provide improvements of service or product offerings to meet customer requirements.
“Specifically, the implementation of an ISO 9001:2008 QMS is based on eight core quality management principles, namely, customer focus, leadership, involvement of people, process approach, systems approach to management, factual approach to decision making and mutually beneficial supplier relationships. In addition, the adoption of the quality management principles facilitates regular management reviews and internal audits ensuring a continual improvement process.
“In Escrow Europe’s case, this relates to the specific processes for ‘the conclusion of active escrow agreements and the deposit, verification and subsequent storage of intellectual property such as software source code belonging to the depositor (software developer) for the future benefit of a specified beneficiary in the event of a release condition as stipulated in the active escrow agreement’.”
As part of the certification, Escrow Europe is committed to a routine quality audit once every three months and up to two major audits annually for the next three years. The whole certification is then up for renewal after the expiry of the three-year period.
Corder admitted that attaining certification is a time-consuming, detailed, and consequently expensive, process.
“Because certification is business-specific, the auditors – in Escrow Europe’s case, the South African Bureau of Standards – are exceptionally thorough and really get to grips with the business. Escrow Europe went through two extremely rigorous audits and had to make certain adjustments, before it satisfied the SABS auditors.
Locally, Escrow Europe is a member of the Institute of Directors (IoD), IRMSA, CITI, ISACA and LES to name some of the more prominent associations and professional bodies. To this extent, it is the thought leader in the field of professional software escrow and was commissioned by the IoD and Judge Mervyn King to provide professional guidelines for South African Directors and Officers. Current business alliances include Webber Wentzel Bowens, Michalsons Attorneys, the Corporate Governance Foundation and Continuity SA (Pty) Ltd.
Additionally, it is the only BEE certified provider of active software escrow, and clients include the largest banks, industrial firms, government agencies, software firms and venture capitalists as well as smaller software houses that need its services in order to qualify to do business with local and international corporate entities.
The Institute of Risk Management in South Africa (IRMSA) recognised Escrow Europe’s role in assisting South African companies manage their mission critical business risks and the company was named as the recipient of the Best Small Business Initiative Related to Risk Management Award at IRMSA's 2007 annual conference.
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