Ottawa firm’s anti-corruption tools a worldwide hit

From a modest office on Carling Avenue, Joe Gerard and his colleagues are running a global business helping companies around the world stop corporate corruption in its tracks.

Mr. Gerard is the vice-president of sales and marketing at i-Sight, which makes custom software that compiles, stores and analyzes data on all types of business misbehaviour from violations of federal privacy laws to bullying and harassment.

By creating a “central warehouse” for case file information, i-Sight’s team says the company’s software allows clients to more effectively investigate human resources complaints and spot potential breaches of government regulations.

The Ottawa firm’s roster of customers includes major Canadian and U.S. banks and insurance companies, as well as heavy corporate hitters in other sectors, such as British Petroleum.

Many of them are multinational companies with subsidiaries all over the globe and thousands of employees. A significant number operate in highly regulated industries, where they often find it a challenge to adhere to anti-corruption legislation that varies from country to country while also keeping tabs on security and HR issues within their own walls.

“They want all of their investigative functions to come together into a single solution,” Mr. Gerard says.

That’s where i-Sight comes in. Its software stores information in a central database and prints reports at the click of a mouse, allowing managers to quickly spot suspicious trends or behaviour patterns.

It’s a niche industry, Mr. Gerard says, but one that’s growing quickly thanks in part to beefed-up oversight of financial institutions in the wake of the Great Recession.

Banks and insurance companies are investing more money than ever to ensure they stay on the right side of the law, he says, while HR managers find the software a helpful tool to weed out “employees doing naughty things” on company time.

Universities and colleges are the latest market to catch i-Sight’s eye. The company has been meeting with up to 20 schools a week and the response has been positive, Mr. Gerard adds.

“It’s an awful big market outside of the enterprise world,” he says. “Our market share is still tiny compared to what is available.”

Many of those meetings are face-to-face, and i-Sight staffers logged nearly half a million kilometres last year servicing existing customers and wooing new ones.

“You’ve got to have a bit of a passion for travel to really be good at the delivery stuff,” says Mr. Gerard, a father of two young daughters who prefers to leave the globetrotting to others.

Staying in Ottawa has its own challenges when running a global business, he adds, including scheduling meetings across multiple time zones. He points to the 16-hour difference for a recent video conference with a client in Australia as a prime example.  

“We’ve got to have teams that can be flexible in terms of their working hours. Luckily, we have a lot of young developers and they don’t like waking up early, so that helps,” he says with a laugh.

The software allows customers to maintain detailed case files on a wide realm of suspicious activities, with all the data stored on a secure server in Canada. An employee suspected of fudging expense accounts in France, for example, can be quickly red-flagged if he transfers across the Atlantic and submits questionable receipts in Texas.

“(Customers) want to be able to connect those dots,” says Mr. Gerard. “Our clients are really trying to avoid situations where people fall through the cracks and are able to get in trouble multiple times without (the company) figuring it out.”  

Mr. Gerard’s father Ray, a former tech executive, and his friend Geoff English founded the company under the name Customer Expressions in the late 1990s. They were soon joined by Mr. Gerard and Jason Victor, and the team initially worked out of an office in Mr. English’s attic.

Today, the firm serves hundreds of clients on every continent in 29 languages. Rare for an enterprise software firm, i-Sight has never received a dime in venture capital, bootstrapping its way to eight-figure annual revenues.  

Most customers pay annual licensing and support fees to i-Sight in advance, Mr. Gerard says, providing the company with a steady flow of cash to fund its organic growth.

“It takes a long time to build, but once you get going, we’ve got a pretty decent snowball rolling down the hill now,” he says, noting the firm’s revenues have grown by 50 per cent annually over the past three years. “It starts to build on itself.”

The company’s workforce has ballooned from 20 to more than 90 since 2013, requiring two separate expansions of its headquarters at 2255 Carling Ave.  

“We’re sort of the tip of the iceberg at this point,” Mr. Gerard says. “Our product has come a long way in the last two or three years where we’re going into pitches now and the stuff that (clients) have on their mind, we’re showing them that we’ve already thought through that problem and here’s the solution. Everything’s clicking now. The product is good, we’re delivering it and creating good references. A lot of clients now are bringing us new business.”

Like many fast-growing tech enterprises, i-Sight faces another perpetual struggle: finding and training the best talent in a highly competitive tech industry.

“At the end of the day as the business grows, people are the whole game,” Mr. Gerard says, noting the firm expects to hit the 100-employee mark in the near future. “In Ottawa right now, there are lots of opportunities for smart people. It’s trying to create an environment where they can be successful.”