Constancy of Vision – Clarity of Values. The Character of One Effective Leader

Loren Data Corp, a small, fiercely competitive VAN (a Value Added Network, operating under the ECGrid® Trademark), has emerged from a nightmare.

Todd Gould, President of Loren Data, successfully guided his company through the B2B IT sector’s most active period of consolidation, and emerged with the company intact. The increased visibility came unbidden to Todd, who simply persevered to resolve a high-stakes network routing dispute with GXS (now OpenText). The dispute became an issue of great concern to all companies depending on VANs for the reliable routing of electronic supply chain (EDI) transactions.

Competing against larger organizations is routine for Loren Data Corp; Todd had refined a reliable formula for delivering targeted EDI communications services for service providers and B2B cloud applications. One can appreciate the challenges of balancing the risk of meeting such a dispute head-on, while maintaining ECGrid’s operational standards of  near-perfection.

Throughout this extraordinary time, Loren Data never faltered in its technical operations, providing critical network messaging services for a professional subscriber population composed of supply chain service providers, enterprise software OEMs, and virtual VANs. The Company maintains very collegial inter provider relationships with its interconnected peers; such relationships are critical for keeping EDI message traffic flowing around the globe. ECGrid processes tens of thousands of EDI messages daily, the Netops team covers three shifts of support, and Todd, in the role of CTO, pushes forward on delivering the next generation of transactional messaging and supplier community management. Reason enough for Todd to enjoy a fleeting moment of industry recognition? In a busy, lean operation, there might be exactly one minute to reflect. If community is any indicator, a brief read of the forums covering the industry indicate that Loren Data Corp’s founder is respected as a competent and multifaceted leader. A visionary perhaps? A Thought Leader, most definitely.

Here are a few of my notes and observations about the company, Loren Data Corp, and its President:

Loren Data Corp competes against much larger companies as a matter of course. By virtue of maintaining its focus on creating superior technology,  and by delivering support that is virtually unattainable in the present market, Loren Data has positioned ECGrid as the preferred EDI Network for B2B SAAS, Enterprise Software OEMs, and IT-centric hosted Logistics Operators (3/4PL).

Now. with the GXS debacle in the company’s rear view mirror, Loren Data returns to evolving a product roadmap that is generations ahead of their competitors.

As the Principal of Loren Data Corp, Todd carries a diverse technical and management portfolio: Senior Engineer,  CTO, Programmer, and Manager of Technical Operations. Compared to other VANs in the sector that focus on end-users, Loren Data Corp targets Service Providers that depend utterly on ECGrid. This also extends to the quality of support which enables service providers to properly service their subscribers (the ultimate service recipients); the total network client cohort is similar in size to the larger  VANs.

Crystal Kuczynski, VP of Network Operations, makes the support side of the business work, hand in hand with Todd, the division of labor between techops and netops has proven an optimal model.  Loren Data has demanding clients, who in turn service large subscriber populations.  Surveys rating VAN support, when able to collect data from service providers and B2B communications alternatives , rate Loren Data support as excellent.

Todd designed ECGrid, the company’s Network Messaging platform, a complex, distributed architecture with integrated multi-protocol communications, X400, AS2, monitoring, payload archiving, logging, subscriber management, and more. Todd wrote the code for ECGrid and its major platform extensions, one being the ECGridOS API. ECGrid handles messaging requirements for thousands of retail and manufacturing supply chains via its front-line service provider clients. These on-demand  B2B operators are notable for being the prime enablers of small and medium businesses with ‘comply or die’ EDI requirements set by their buyers. Therefore, the combination of ECGrid and its aggregate client roster of service providers, Software OEMs, and B2B E2.0 SAAS, presents as a large ecosystem, by any measure, with features and reliability outpacing competitors.

Operating ECGrid for 13 years has been a design and operational Toure de Force for the Company; other EDI network operators providing somewhat similar meshed routing services (minus the specialization on hosted commerce) are keenly aware that operating with reliability is a daunting 24×7 challenge, and a job reserved for a highly skilled network operators and a technical operations staff to deal with computing infrastructure, mass storage, and data center interfaces, etc.

There is no COTS equivalent for the several subsystems that combine to make a VANs operate. Commercial programs are used by some Retailers, and other Hubs to communicate with their communities of trading partners. These are all end-user focused systems, used mostly for companies that are highly motivated to bring all EDI communications in-house. These system (called by various names, MFT – managed file transfer – being inscrutably enigmatic), are not designed for provisioning peer provider interconnects, and do not support maintaining addresses and routing tables used for traffic management. VANs are ‘roll your own’, large, complex systems.

VANs in operation today, at least those with recognizable names, have either been acquired or experienced a turnover in technical staff.  There have been no new entrants to the VAN sector since the GXS-ICC dispute resulted in a desperate ICC being acquired by EasyLink, (owned by OpenText, as is GXS). One speculative exception might be InterTrade, now owned by Canadian technology conglomerate, Mediagrif, of Quebec.

One VAN is known to have its code-base actively maintained by the original author (software engineer), and that is Loren Data Corp. ECGrid is the only VAN offering a complete API, allowing developers to embed VAN function into enterprise software, and for B2B SAAS operators to act as their own VAN.

ECGrid’s repertoire of services is a window into Todd’s ‘design imagination’, or working intent, and, possibly a tiny peek into  the Principal of a business that is going on 27 years of continuous operations  – Loren Data Corp is a successful business operating in a tough, highly consolidated, connected market.  (the company is debt free, with an average client tenure of +5 years, an employee tenure of +7 years, and survived having a GXS bullseye drawn on its back.)

Offering a programmable interface (API), allowing invocation of the network’s entire command set, distinguishes ECGrid from its competition. The attributes of pro-accessibility and autonomy (ability to operate via software commands) are indicative of Todd Gould’s defining philosophy (Networked Market Idealism) which cannot be found in any of the analyst’s surveys of the B2B integration sector.

The philosophy of networked market idealism, created and transformed the Internet from its academic roots, to our modern-day App economy. The ideology of growing the number of endpoints and therefore the commercial and (for example) educational utility of the network, includes liberalized network attachment (assisted by well implemented standards) and permissive peering or interconnection conventions (from the Internet’s academic lineage, and the FCC’s earliest intervention). All of these defining philosophies come embedded in Arpanet’s research lineage, and even from the Science Fiction writings of Arthur C. Clark.

Todd also serves the EDI Communications sector as one of the few redoubtable sources of industry expertise . Gaining his experience as a self-employed professional directly after graduating university as a chemist and materials scientist, Todd founded Loren Data Corp (incorporated 1992) in Marina Del Rey, CA.  The majority of Todd’s work in complex, large software systems, he created for the USAF and Loren Data Corp.

Therefore, here is the President of a Small Technology Company, a software developer, a designer of complex platforms, an acting data center engineer for the two co-location facilities running ECGrid’s 7*24*365 services. Loren Data Corp also operates FBO Daily, a listing of Federal contracting opportunities – with revenues derived from subscriptions and contextual advertising revenues.

Loren Data Corp is now more visible than ever, as a result of surviving the recent GXS ordeal.  Unavoidably, growth was sacrificed in the course of the antitrust case, and by existing and potential customers being cautious. And, who can blame them? The largest VAN picked a fight with one of the smaller VANs, and with the size of the GXS media megaphone, it is a miracle that Loren Data Corp retained its major clients, including SPS Commerce. The Company’s netops team also remains whole and intact. The Company, its President, and the staff never relaxed for one minute of the decade long struggle; and to their credit, the entire staff became enthusiastically engaged on the key issues at the center of the dispute – i.e., adoption of pragmatic routing policies, and sensible inter-provider traffic settlements.

In his appeal to collegial competitors, Todd has encouraged advancing technical standards for the B2B communications sector. In this otherwise moribund VAN and ECSP market, Todd is setting the pace to target an ambitious course of action that would facilitate increased adoption of EDI services in the supply chain market; so, who is listening?

Some experienced and perceptive EDI emeriti have been observing the level-headed leader of Loren Data Corp, and confided to me that they are impressed by Todd’s acting as an industry advocate in the midst of a dispute that surely could have destroyed the company. From a somewhat closer inside view as the company’s advocate,  I witnessed some of the planning and decision-making processes. Todd and his staff were on guard, working the problem and never disengaged for the length of the dispute.

From the outside, Loren Data operated flawlessly, never losing institutional cool. Todd as President exercised his judgement, and planned for results. In the context of an industry crises that could capsize one’s own company, there were doubts, anger, even some existential soul-searching. The past few years of the dispute have not rested lightly on the shoulders of the founder, CTO, and chief developer of Loren Data Corp. Adding here editorially – Todd still managed to generate a great deal of product strategy, designs, and new technology, during this extremely tumultuous period. This occurred while Todd worked with and reassured clients,  while he conferred with collegial competitors who shared common cause.

Todd displayed his unwavering commitment by minimizing negative consequences for his clients or any end-user regardless of which network they subscribed to.  OpenText as the new owners of GXS, quite credibly took an enlightened, pro market position, announcing that the established connectivity between ECGrid and OpenText (former GXS) networks will remain intact to route data normally. With that announcement, the EDI communications industry breathed a very audible sigh of relief..

Now, with the OpenText détente in place, even a fleeting period of self-congratulation is denied to Loren Data Corp – it’s back to work, on to the next evolution of services from Todd Gould and Loren Data Corp.  it will be exciting to see this happen, and it’s good to see the young old man back in the software engineering saddle.

Todd’s constancy of vision and unwavering values as a ‘networked market idealist’, allowed the company to endure through conditions that routinely spell the end of larger organizations.  There were casualties in the EDI sector attributable to Old GXS.  There is no perfectly safe harbor in an unregulated networked market.  More than a decade has elapsed since the initial GXS’ refusal to deal, by denying Loren Data Corp equitable interconnect terms granted to other VANs. This serves to underline that a great deal of work remains for the interconnected VAN sector. Without common sense policies for inter-provider traffic exchange and settlement, the market will keep stumbling, and then, “what’s next”.  The industry can no longer tolerate traffic arbitration by VANs highly concentrated subscriber populations. And, even though Loren Data resorted to the Sherman Antitrust Act (covered here),  generally, the age of trust busting (antitrust) is over. But for the fact that GXS had previously used traffic mediation as leverage, in the historic case of the ICC interconnect severance – the era has been nothing if not a renaissance for the rebirth of monopolies and super-monopolies sanctioned explicitly by the USDOJ.

The resolution brokered with Open Text’s leadership will, for the foreseeable future,  allow the B2B Messaging sector to move forward.  Loren Data Corp will resume developer evangelism,  and Todd will, as usual, continue to engineer the industry’s next ‘grand architecture’.

As consumers, we are blissfully ignorant of the thin layers of network glue that make our lives and businesses “just work”.  We have no awareness of the legal contracts, regulatory policies, or industry conventions that keep commerce humming.  We expect our services to ‘just work'”.

We are living in the post 1996 telecom reform act era. We do not know how competitive wholesale cross global backbone providers exchange traffic, how they “settle”or compensate each other. Are you shocked when  Netflix, a company you may use, becomes subject to access mediation by a last mile ISP that has grown very powerful?. Yes, Comcast.

We can count on incumbents (like Old GXS, or Comcast) to abuse (withhold, degrade, refuse to honor the bailment of electronic messages exchanged between contractual parties) interconnections, or to exploit mediation of access (blocking a trading partner on SPS Commerce from exchanging EDI messages with a GXS Customer) . In unregulated networked markets, the very existence of innovative competitors, quality of service levels, and end-user price, all depend on stable interconnection. With the foregoing assured, that a large operator will not abuse “The Network”, any consumer may select any network or service provider of their choice, without concern that their phone calls, electronic invoices, or their streaming movie content will be blocked, or their connection throttled, by an incumbent. With sane interconnection policies, PE driven acquisition may proceed with all due atavistic abandon,  while innovators proceed at full speed, and end-users will remain assured of message deliverability and the availability of content . The Golden Rule of Healthy Networked Markets: Keep Interconnections Sacred.

Networked markets without sustainable interconnection policies have caused many businesses to stumbled and fail – some are due to changes in regulation, unexpected appellate decisions, or a backroom deal between obscure providers most of us have never heard of.  Consider a large VAN mediating access to its large customers, many being marquee brand retailers, the so-called hubs. These well-regarded hubs, at first, never had a clue that their good name and ‘must route to status” was being exploited by a PE Fund’s flunkies.  But, as the famous disconnection date drew near to a penultimate severance of ECGrid and the GXS Networks, fur started to fly, calls poured in, and cooler heads prevailed with a change in GXS ownership.  At stake was the greatest intentional network disruption in the history of the VAN sector, with the solution entirely predicated on Todd Gould’s careful and considered reasoning being  presented to his counterparts at OpenText.

These network leveraging exploits are more common than one would suppose. At layer seven, which is non-facilities based, a provider cannot compel reciprocal traffic exchanges with a non-cooperating peer.  This has caused problems beyond the VAN sector, in premium secure paid email ventures,  in a plethora of Web Application and API providers (yes, there can be mediation of access and gate keeping there, too). and there are more in the narrow industrial verticals, if one looks and notices well.

Some companies quietly go out of business without a fight when so confronted, some are quite agile and pivot out of specialty. The choices are easier to write about, but never as easy to accomplish under fire – however, there are a few success stories of fortuitous re-births from similar routing and access disputes – these are exceptions.  Most often, an incumbent’s abuse of network effects creates ulcers and bankruptcies.

Layer seven  markets (addressable, application to application networks) would do well to study the EDI VAN sector and the cool-headed actions of Loren Data’s President, whose constancy of vision carried his company through a vexing dispute. Todd Gould took action, creating three different workarounds for each class of trading partner confronted with a supply chain disaster should GXS actually carry out its network exploiting threat. Concerned trading partners from around the globe, many prestigious GXS  clients, called Todd, simply for advice.  How many VAN operators can one find today with such an innate sense of stewardship, and sense of service to his market?

At the apex of the threat, Old GXS was absolutely unconcerned that its own clients would be materially disrupted and damaged.

As the date drew near, several ominous”interconnect advisories” were updated, followed by a few letters that failed to reassure, many GXS clients realized exactly how much of their EDI traffic was carried by Loren Data ECGrid to their vendors on SPS Commerce!  

Further,  the GXS account reps were powerless to either explain or remedy these deleterious actions –  actions that were stubbornly and inexorably pushed forward by GXS, to the very detriment of GXS Clients and their vendors on ECGrid (via their respective service providers). Many CIOs and EDI department managers sought advice from Todd, who presented the concerned parties with three options for supplementary connectivity.

Todd also gave some of the best advice I have ever heard in the context of an impending network  level crisis:  –>

“please bear with me, and wait,  and I will advise you, and shall do everything in my power to insure your supply chain message routing is not disrupted”.

Todd was correct, for upon reaching out to OpenText, a resolution was put in place.  

Interconnections, when stable and sustainable, are what makes the market grow, by encouraging competition. Interconnections are pro market stabilizers, economic enablers of the connected age, and vital to the health of the information based industries we compete in.

The recent history of the Loren Data Corp v. GXS dispute, now resolved by Todd Gould and OpenText’s  leadership by simply seeing with the eyes of  a visionary, and gazing One Layer Higher.

Interconnections require some form of protection – at least in the EDI communications sector, due to the critical nature of supply chain transactions. This will  require industry sponsored, institutionalized protections, because the deregulation train left the station a long time ago, and the trust busting era is dead and gone.

The EDI sector’s required dose of stewardship, or “routing vigilance”, will need to come from inside the professional ranks, or from new entrants with an enthusiasm for what our market could become.  In any case, the toxic practice of transforming The Network into an instrument of competitive leverage must not be allowed to become entrenched as the favorite tool in a monopolist’s toolbox.