The term whistleblower, in the context of someone doing some good, has been in existence since the early 1970s, but for Shannon Walker, the sense of its significance came in the early 2000s with the onset of the Enron Corp. scandal.
The whistleblower in that case was Sherron Watkins, who at the time was vice president of corporate development with the now defunct energy giant. Her testimony, and the ultimate demise of the company, led to the introduction of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which contains 11 sections of legislation all geared to avoiding similar corporate and accounting scandals.
As a result of Enron, and seeing that there was a definite need to “assist organizations in creating a more transparent and accountable environment for their employees and other stakeholders,” Walker founded WhistleBlower Security Inc. (WBS), a Vancouver-based company which bills itself as the only women-owned managed ethics reporting and case management provider in the North American market.
Launched in 2005, the company has grown and matured over the years to the point it now offers the following services: Ethics, compliance and loss prevention hotlines, as well as IntegrityCounts, a proprietary case management platform that is cloud-based.
“We built a really elementary system to take in reports,” Walker recalls of those early days. “The first adopters of this type of service were junior mining companies. They wanted to have that kind of oversight to allow their people in the field to be able to report back to head office here in Vancouver.
“Those were the groups of companies that allowed us to launch. There was the need because they all had an investor stakeholder group that they’ve got to be transparent with. Even today, I would say, the mining clients that we have, and we probably have five or six or seven dozen, are also on the forefront of incorporating the ESG standards and the DEI – diversity, equity and inclusion – policies within their groups.”
She credits such forward thinking to the fact that there is “much more oversight on them – what they do to the environment, and how they work within the communities.”
Mining represents a small segment of WBS’ overall business today. As of this morning, its services are used in 106 countries, 107 industries, are available in 150 languages and extend to public corporations, private enterprises, non-profit organizations, and governments.
One example of how the WBS offerings have been put into action with the latter involves the development of a Fraud and Waste Hotline for the City of Hamilton, launched in 2019. Employees or members of the public can report fraud or wasteful practices anonymously, around the clock.
Charles Brown, the municipality’s city auditor, described the reporting tool last year as “a valuable deterrent that helps mitigate the risk of unethical behavior, and it reinforces the city’s commitment to corporate governance and accountability. The number of reports related to fraud and waste continues to exceed expectations, highlighting that the Hotline remains a well used tool fostering (our) commitment to being transparent and accountable.”
During the first year alone, said Walker, upwards of $250,000 of waste was reported, which resulted in eight city workers being terminated.
From an IT perspective, she said, the fact IntegrityCounts is cloud-based, with data stored on Microsoft Azure, negates the need for it be integrated with a client’s IT configuration.
It’s an independent externally hosted platform, she added, and once a whistleblower alert is received, it can then “be categorized by case type and routed it to the appropriate person. If it’s financial, it could go to the CFO, if it’s a human resource issue, it would go to human resources, if it needs to go to internal audit, we can case route it to that person. And then they can actually dialogue with the whistleblower in the back end.
“They can ask for more information, ask for documentation – you can upload documents – and they can work to resolve the issue. And then, on the back end, there are a lot of analytics that can be done. You can see if there are hotspots within the organization, you can see how many of the reports are being validated.
“And then it contains holistic reporting that can be taken up to the board, so they don’t need to see the details, but they can see the number of reports, were they substantiated and what were the outcomes.”
According to the company, “all client data is hosted within Microsoft Azure data centres within Canada. The data is stored in Azure SQL databases and binary storage, logically separated from other tenant data.
“All data is considered confidential and is encrypted using a 256-bit AES algorithm. Data can only be accessed (decrypted) through the client-facing web applications through controlled users access codes and pass-codes and, under a secured connection.”
Its pricing is based on an annual subscription fee that is determined by several factors, key among them being the number of employees and locations of a particular organization.
Walker estimates that a company with up to 250 employees can expect to pay about $1,700 annually, which she likens to having a “cable bill, in that it’s really not expensive.”