Is it Bedtime for VANs, or is evolution possible? Check your innovation-compass, we are going on an expedition.

Upload, Download, Upload, Download, to check status of delivery go to your admin web page…..Upload, Download, call Netops support…..Ugh!!!! Horrible….bloody horrible…..

Renew VAN contract – 2 to 3 years term? What? How much? KC’s? Minimums per month? Ugh….

Request an interconnect to a TP on another VAN……How much ? Ugh……Unfair (so true).

New unexpected fees and the worst customer service experience ever. Where did these fees come from? You don’t like it? Tough. Threaten moving to a competing VAN or service provider you’ll be slapped with a monetary penalty. The unspoken, very ominous threat is that if you move, your EDI traffic will be routed into a black hole. Such punitive actions, even when threatened but not actualized, would result in criminal racketeering changes against any regulated telecommunications company. Take that to the bank.

But this is the obscure world of EDI Networks, a market dominated by a reconstituted monopoly styled after an AT&T of the 1960’s. The VAN in question did not gain market share via innovation (As Ma Bell did), but via PE that enabled the acquisition of four of the largest VANs predating the fabled consolidation….so you get the picture.

Now to reality –

When Todd Gould, President and CTO of Loren Data, created the ECGridOS Communications and Trading Partner Management API, he weighed the variables of investing the company’s resources and his time in bringing a disruptive service to a market that is infamous for moving slowly into new technologies. Todd placed a big bet that is just starting to pay off – but the potential is starting to manifest.

A) What kind of market reception should such a powerful API expect? Loren Data is handing developers the keys to ECGrid, the company’s Crown Jewel VAN; would developers care? Would they be enthusiastic? Is there enough expertise in the market to make hay with a 150 Function API, nearly a DSL (Domain Specific Meta Application Language), and create a community of developers, Applications? Or, would it just be an anomaly?  A Curiosity?  One for the books, but not a commercial success? ECGridOS is nearing 120 Million functions called – not a big number in the WEb 2.0 space, but there is not much to compare in the EDI Communications arena (No other VAN that manages its own routing table offers an API).

B) Is there enough cohesion within the present mesh of addressable TP end points (in the VAN market)? Current buzz concerns leaving VANs and buying into AS2 in-house installation. This ignores the  one and only saving grace of VANs: easy address-ability and the ease of routing a message to 400,000 trading partners around the globe. These are thinly provisioned services (as I shall expand on further), and ignoring for a moment the multifarious downsides of today’s VANs, the upsides have sustained the overall sector for almost 30 years. That’s right, the first VANs were born in the ’70’s.

However, certain VANs have stopped caring for their  clients. That’s another article entirely, but just look at the many EDI discussion boards, groups, and mailing lists documenting such weeping and gnashing of teeth. Something is very, very, wrong. There most surely are ways to deliver more value and satisfaction that will ultimately retain customers, just as providing great support factors into customer satisfaction… but that is not happening. What the entire VAN sector needs to do is a complete, top to bottom re-evaluation, and get on track to delighting customers, not merely satisfying them.

But this sad state of affairs could be turned around in a thrice. Let me tell you, that I am before all else an observer of this market. I KNOW that most mid-sized hubs and trading partners do not want to operate in-house As2 systems. They either find that out the hard way, and discover that managed As2 services are just as cumbersome as the AS2 in-house kluges. It’s a terrible way to gain a life-lesson.

It’s a hellish nightmare, what the industry is proposing as  VAN alternatives: As2, with huge license fees, creeping hardware requirements, annual $support$ for in-house crews, and the final blow, having to provide AS2 comms support for trading partners (they never asked for or required this much hand-holding with VAN mailboxes).

This myth is eating some companies alive. They say, to me, “Why oh why can’t the VANs just get their act together?”. Indeed.  Here is a little end of year story for my colleagues:

A professional without much capital, but lots of programming experience, went out to do it right: The newly formed team were experts in B2B & EDI, and they set out to get the communications setup so they could serve multiple clients. The new business would offer all of the modern data layer services, mapping, translation, and even more advanced multi-instance ESB’s that allow direct SQL attachment to their shiny new Cloud Services. They decided against offering only an “AS2 Palace” – because many of their potential customers had trading partners on VANs, and they were in no position to dictate that all of the TP’s (of every new client) use As2 and leave their VANs behind. For many good reasons, they needed both VAN interconnects and As2   – – –  oh! What to do?

They needed a holy grail. But, how does one define the “holy grail” of EDI messaging and transactional coms services?  What is the penultimate shape of a perfectly powerful, scalable, lean, agile, flexible, efficient, and cost-effective (cheaper than what is currently available) ?

All you experts on the Linked-in EDI Forums and the Yahoo EDI Mailing list…..not one existing system or a do it yourself AS2 comms package can be described by any of these adjectives:

powerful,

scalable,

lean,

agile,

flexible,

efficient,

cost-effective (Cheaper than today’s alternatives, at least)

Well, I’m waiting. Oh, please, don’t tell me you run a 3,000 user As2 system with 30,000 MDN’s a hour….that’s you…..not everyone…and you cost 100K /yearly, and took years to climb the learning curve.

We expect built-in services (as OS services, callable from any environment or scripted via  server-side languages,), for communications and messaging – email, http raw, some OS’ have fancy message queuing services in the base trunk.

For developers with ambitions beyond a typical supply chain end-user, EDI communications and associated partner-network management functions (mail-boxes, ID assignment, directories, messaging functions, reporting, tracking) call for really clever and lightweight provisioning. While the ultimate services being delivered can be indeed massive, the programmer absolutely requires these attributes:

powerful,

scalable,

lean,

agile,

flexible,

efficient,

cost-effective (Cheaper than today’s alternatives, at least)

Call a function and get your thing DONE ! – This comprises the ideal form of pure computing. Pure? That’s what IBM is betting on. Without infrastructure or very much knowledge of what has to happen behind the scenes, any service can be spun up and called from any development environment everything from SAP and Oracle implementations to WordPress and Visual Basic.

We should not even think about needing physical computing resources, but all of these lightweight provisioning services for modern-day EDI are now, yes now, able to make use of any resource with minimum costs, and , one need not posses a PhD to participate.

Recalling the story of the EDI professionals from earlier: They could not get a VAN to give them a native, reciprocal interconnect –  they were instantly considered upstart competitors by the B2B establishment. They could hardly find a VAN to sell them a mailbox…which is a poor substitute (actually a nonstarter) for a B2B Super Platform What to do?

Answer: First off, This B2B Startup business is very real, real company with real people who put skin in the game, and left their comfortable jobs to set the SME B2B SAAS world on fire.. Next, this is the story of more than one company, who are now ECGridOS developers , because they  tried everything else,  and found that was not one other EDI network messaging and subscriber management platform….none. They all discovered the value and meaning of Todd’ Gould’s (and IBM’s) enlightened concept of “call a service and handle your business”, otherwise known as “pure Computing”.  An increasing number of companies and B2B startups are doing exactly this….with ECGridOS.

Some are well-known marques in the Integration and Services sector . These companies all are turned to Loren Data Corp ECGrid, and ECGridOS….

The decision makers at these “vanguard” companies made their biggest bet on Todd Gould, the Founder of Loren Data Corp who built ECGrid, ECGridOS. and Unified As2; they concluded that Todd is, as I state,  probably the leading communications architect in the EDI sector – and that is why GXS is gunning for him.

They bet on the thought leader, and on the future of EDI services being lightweight and inspired. By signing on in the midst of the battle, they have explicitly or implicitly stated their intent to be allies – and a word is sufficient for the initiated.

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