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My Freelance Agenda

My updated Linkedin reads like this, and I am looking for new work as a freelance internal analyst  / evangelist – creating alternative narratives that serve to rejuvenate product targeting, while elevating the discussion above the noise level .

The Enterprise IT Sector is crowded and complex. The constituent buyers of B2B Capital Line of Business software and hardware are becoming increasingly jaded and immune to standard marketing practices.

Feature / Benefit – Feature / Benefit

Whether a long and excruciatingly precipitous closing cycle, or being drowned in the advertising noise, when is the right time to create a fresh narrative? 

Selling complex and costly capital line systems to sophisticated buyers using the old feature / benefit tactic is starting to wear thin across capital line of business IT and equipment markets. There are many, many highly competitive SME companies led by Scientist / Engineer Founders who are simply being outspent on media by PE funded leviathans. 

A reworked narrative can make a difference. My campaigns are industry issue driven to dovetail with your existing marketing, to steer high-interest prospects and convert them into leads – always focusing on the essential core of what makes your org / product better, different. 

In context of the market & above the noise. Part of being in context is analyzing the competitors in your sector, while keeping watch on the developing opportunities.

My clients deliver highly crafted and refined technologies to B2B software and a few hardware markets where I have a special feel for (Test & Measurement, Mobile data, workforce management). I’m an industry relations analyst with an evangelist’s tilt – and increasingly a guide to regulatory relations

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: Continue reading

New Court Ruling places FCC in the regulatory catbird seat – what? Weren’t they already? Apparently not.

Court Strikes Down Net Neutrality Rules but Grants FCC Sweeping New Power over Internet

Today, the D.C. Circuit struck down most of the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order, rejecting rules that required broadband providers to carry all traffic for edge providers (“anti-blocking”) and prevented providers from negotiating deals for prioritized carriage. However, the appeals court did conclude that the FCC has statutory authority to issue “Net Neutrality” rules under Section 706(a) of the Communications Act and let stand the FCC’s requirement that broadband providers clearly disclose their network management practices.

 

http://techfreedom.org/post/73327053584/court-strikes-down-net-neutrality-rules-but-grants-fcc

EDI Communications – a Sector Stifled by an Arrested Architecture and …..

Will Open Routing save the EDI communications Sector?

Offered here is a brief observation of Connected Markets:

1) What’s good for the network is good for the subscribers,

2)  What’s good for subscribers, is good for the networked market.

The reciprocal traffic exchange agreements used by Value Added Network providers  (EDI communications for retail and manufacturing supply chains) are a good example of agreements  designed for the  good of the subscribers.  Being able to transact with any trading partner on any VAN makes perfect sense. The EDI Comms Market, as presently operated by most VANs and service providers will  not be a good place to innovate and capitalize  if  traffic reciprocity  is reduced to mere leverage to kill  off one’s competitors. 

The silent ascent to GXS traffic routing abuses is quite  troubling, to say the least, as a failure to act on behalf of the market’s best interests. The Parent Companies who recently acquired  a few well-used VANs: Opentext, IBM, and Liaison – To my Colleagues….I ask why?

by Alan D. Wilensky

Rising above the noise can be a challenge. The coverage of the B2B IT market can only be termed followers ink, with the GXS Inovis Merger a particularly toothsome example that deeply scarred my bright-eyed innocence. Witnessing the misplaced,  corrupt hosannas flowing from the analyst’s pens, was doubly disturbing, due to the complete absence of any countervailing  opinion recommending against the acquisition.

Fortunately, true quality cannot be hidden, nor can it hide. Innovation that begets the rare, defining methodology, or a new architecture, is unmistakably genuine and  instantly recognizable. Professionals with highly tuned discernment routinely detect the false notes of those crowing about innovation, which invariably is traced to a corporate leadership wafting their lack of credibility behind them.

Private or Sovereign Equity constructs an ersatz business entity that self declares its leadership, and purchases such a large subscriber pool, so that the Golem is briefly insulated  from the consequences of  misguided, anti-networked market policies. Inevitably, the truth leaks out. PE can’t acquire a founder’s heart, dominance of will, or the loyalty of a leader’s key line-management. Massive funding in order to  exploit the sharpest blade in the network effect toolkit…..is a strategy missed by our erstwhile regulators for a year, two, or even three, but even AT&T faced a massive divestiture and consent decree. But for those in the vanguard, time is in short supply, and such vanguard thinkers are by their nature, impatient.

There is an overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction in the EDI Comms market; I believe that new opportunities will be actualized when a forum for innovation (fixing B2B message routing and traffic reciprocity) is created. Such is lacking in the present B2B market. To compete in the open, by one’s wits, showcasing an unmistakable sense of  quality and fitness, this is the arena sought by revolutionary thinkers in the B2B sector. That  is what I fight for in each and every engagement.

This sector is somewhat moribund; and if not entirely devoid of ideas, it exists as if arrested in the course a puberty of sorts, an adolescence that has endured far too long.  With the heydays of the VAN era  well past the sell by date of its peak, circa 1990-2005.

We are left with a comms market reliant on IP transport, which is fine.  The present application layer addressing scheme using an embedded envelope segment network addresses,  has potential advantages,  but these efficiencies remain theoretical due to inefficiencies in the present InterVAN routing regime.  A stillborn, application layer messaging market is the result of this stasis.

Moaning  about the  sector’s malaise and inefficiencies does absolutely nothing. Here are the hot button issues from my non-attributed survey research:

  • Industry-wide adoption of Machine Accessible Directory Services (enable ID portability and efficient migrations).
  • Standards-based  InterVAN attachment –   adhering to the standard allows placement of data on the inter-network paths.
  • Elimination of 1:1 interconnects in favor of  hierarchical routing.
  • Permissive attachment. Acts as a hedge against  exploitation of routing borders, or worse.  Routing exploitation is damaging to the entire industry.  The health of the market suffers when inter-network message handling is perverted.
  • The Reorganization of a EDI Communications Industry Association, CTO board seats. No agendas allowed other than the perfection of layer seven addressing and routing.
  • Give thought leaders and architects their just due, let the self nominated leaders show some stewardship by facilitation and sponsorship.

To be large, to have thousands of employees, to have the immense backing of PE – these attributes are all one-dimensional. They symbolize nothing that is intellectually substantial or emblematic of  a Company’s thought leadership.

However, size  and other headline-readable attributes , are not in any sense distinctive  to subscribers, to customers.

Professional B2B ventures adopting a platform after a stringent vetting are the true coin of the  realm. New B2B ventures bring a discerning yardstick to the sector, conducting nuanced platform research to attain  specific goals. Entrepreneurs, even in B2B IT,  balance innovation against risk.

If a platform delivers truly, the entrepreneurs  will adopt with calculated precision. In healthy connected markets, tools and entrepreneurial dynamism create all kinds of  synergy; the relationships created among platform builders and the application pioneers will create some of the most enduring partnerships to emerge from the B2B sector wars.

Is change possible in the VAN market, or are the recent consolidations and sell-outs simply the preface to the ultimate VAN exodus, and a step toward alternative systems and technologies?

Your collegial comments are welcome.

Standing Alone and standing fast, as the allies fled.

Standing Alone and standing fast, as the allies fled.

The boldest, bravest action I have ever witnessed in  business (where self-sacrifice is rare), is the antitrust lawsuit initiated by Todd Gould, Founder of Loren Data Corp, against the PE-funded B2B leviathan,  GXS Inc.

The EDI Communications market predated, then adopted Internet Protocol as the bearer of EDI data. All original Value Added Networks began life as circuit switched and leased line (PSTN) modem pools that were the original progenitors of A2A  routing.  In the 1970’s, as EDI became established in manufacturing supply chains, interconnection  physical via bisynch – but all of it taken together was a replacement for telex and twx (the original global message system for manufacturing) – these were tariffed teletype services, i.e., regulated by the FCC, as common carriage, and each message had bailment attached ….(each message was considered valuable and the carriers took responsibility for timely delivery of each message.) Telegraphy services could not refuse to relay traffic to competitive carriers  – thus one component of Common Carriage is Interconnection).

Computers and Data networking was a new concept to the regulators;  non-voice, packet store and forward using computers as switching and application host, was not only novel, but it gave rise to  new innovations and potential abuse.   FCC undertook “The Computer Inquiries”, a grand colloquy of testimony from experts and industry leaders, with the goal of determining if new regulations would be required to steer the FCC’s system of bureau-based enforcement, and the administrative law panels that heard testimony and adjudicated petitions for Common Carrier, Wireline Competition, Broadband, and several other communications markets.  The Telecommunications Reform Act of  1996, which deregulated a most of the content and pure data infrastructure  of  the IP universe, created and compounded confusion arising amongst EDI networks, or VANs, that were application layer 7 data messaging services. The FCC erred terribly in failing to tariff EDI Communications, and left a fallow field to wither under the 96 Act. Any company participating in the EDI driven supply chains, from the largest retailers to the tiniest suppliers, now has an AT&T style, most toxic monopoly to contend with – and this all courtesy of the FCC, and more recently, the USDOJ….now  in my estimation the most ineffective competition regulators in the entire Milky Way…along with Great Britain’s Office of Fair Trading. Exactly what does a true monopoly look like to these “govt chair sitters”.

“Non-Settlement” is the key Term-of-Art in Understanding VAN Interconnects

Interconnections between the legacy VANs, whether via hard-lines, modems, or IP virtual circuits in later days primarily refer to data carriage between two competing VANs, VAN interconnect agreements in the Internet era are “non-settlement, message traffic exchange agreements” –  a complex jumble of words for a the practical  accommodations made by the VANs to facilitate bidirectional messaging between any two subscribers on competing Networks.

Illumination:

Interconnections were deemed a market-driven necessity by the earliest VANs, as the first adopters would never have acceded to the requirement of corralling 100% of their suppliers on one VAN (these clients were powerful automotive manufacturing and shipping lines). EDI would thrive  only in a competitive market where subscriber choice came first. The  freedom to choose a VAN without the concern of routing dead-ends, kept the business healthy for years. Until the GXS fiasco, that is.

The freedom to choose or move to a competing VAN was ensured by liberal interconnection. This is the reason why networked markets deemed important by  the FCC always mandate  interconnection via tariff.

EDI messages between two transacting parties (a supplier Invoices a Retailer, in response to a purchase order) are bidirectional and balanced in terms of the messages sent and received, Therefore, VANs do not settle billing for interconnect traffic. it nets out to zero.

VAN subscribers pay for the messages sent and received  by volume measured in KC (kilo characters). VANs have historically granted interconnects under fairly permissive guidelines, especially in the industry’s earliest days until the dawn of the 2000’s, The mostly accepted formula for granting semi durable, interVAN connections is as thus:

“if a competing VAN requests a “trading partnership’ be setup with a subscriber on the home VAN, an interconnection will be established upon confirmation of the mutual trading parties”. Viola.

The most public and infamous refusal to interconnect was PE Funded GXS Inc,. against Loren Data Corp. The background of the dispute is covered by the author in several articles on this site. The important point is that the Founder of Loren Data Corp, Todd Gould, initiated the antitrust case against GXS, using his personal resources.

In our numerous public appeals to an industry which would anticipate future  deleterious actions of such pan-market sabotage, not one other company stepped forth to join the fight, or  came to the aid of Loren Data  Corp’s legal initiative –  though GXS’ damaging InterVAN traffic routing was  actually a preemptive strike against the Service Provider Sector.

GXS, having become all but unstoppable  due to its  purchase of  three major VANs,   had  leveraged a Network Effect routing  coup,  the likes of which the VAN sector had never imagined nor experienced before. The service providers as a collective group with no unity whatsoever, had no idea how to deal with these burnt earth. GXS tactics. So, with almost no  opposition, except what Todd Gould could muster. The result  a sector that has, by inaction, procured a malevolent dictatorship; a private enterprise controlling an increasing number of “magnet destination   network addresses”.

Could a new market entrant as a VAn or Service Provider operate without routes to GXS bound subscribers, all  Fortune 2000 hubs, retailers,manufacturers, etc. ? Would any capital source risk such an investment….without knowing beforehand that any new venture would be “Routing Viable” – no way.

Only massive capital of a PE fund, and the coordinated acquisition of a sufficient number of VAN properties, carefully executed to exploit the weaknesses of the “unfinished” VAN routing ‘non-architecture, could accomplish such a feat. The analysis could not be clearer – Routing Arbitrage and exploitation of the layer 7 EDI addresses was the original organizing principle behind Francisco Partners Funding of GXS, Inc. These are tactics the FCC and DOJ are supposed to be on-guard against…..but our regulators have failed us in a double agency failure –

Our competition watchdog laid down and waved through a HSR for many such acquisitions, but the coup de grace was Inovis. Why was so special about Inovis?  An incisive quote from Todd Gould illuminates the obscure:

“Inovis was the last competent VAN operator to stand briefly against GXS (speaking of the tiny, inner cadre of technical management holding a slim slice of Inovis equity), who first of all could operate and offer a transit route to GXS, at a price envelope we could potentially operate within – although that differential was a disadvantage compared to other EDI networks (who paid zero $ under standard non-settlement terms)”,

“Inovis was technically capable of operating the beast, which was  only required by  Loren Data Corp – the last VAN to be publicly denied a GXS interconnect to TGMS” – (Author’s historical note: Loren Data Corp’s ECGrid VAN had established  interconnection with IBM IE, and Inovis, pre GXS buyout – such that  astute readers truly understand  GXS’ latest  “daisy chaining” defamatory claptrap, is completely bankrupt on its face).

The FCC chose not to look even briefly at the distortion of the EDI messaging sector, although, there were ample arguments to apply the reasoning arising from the “Computer Inquiry Remands I, II, III”,-  the EDI market is  a “services market in which bailment attached, meeting all requirements for common carriage regulation”. Hit the buzzer on the FCC for the largest failure of intentional, regulatory blindness since….you name it.

The EDI VAN and Service Provider Sector now inherits the fruits of  collective inaction –  the grand prize for undistinguished market non-activism in the face of a toxic consolidation Presently, the sector finds itself bereft  of an effective means  to oppose GXS, a giant now franchised by a TransAtlantic, intragovernmental “star Chamber’ of competition regulators. These regulators played into the hands of a PE Fund that, to all appearances, wrote their script …and handed each agency their very own gilt embossed set of rubber agency stamps, in felt-lined cases with certificate of authenticity….

Each boxed set of rubber stamps given to the UK OFT and USDOJ has a hand-written note enclosed, that says “the check is under the felt liner, guy$”.

While we are at it, the e-commerce service provider sector leadership? What have they been doing for the last two years? Well, that will be my next post, but suffice to say that it’s has been a very, very Black several years for EDI businesses wishing to access that fragile, under provisioned and under architected routing mesh.  More to come.

Micro Commentary on Republican Contenders: Clown College

I am an Independent Democrat  – I regret my vote for Barak Obama – I don’t even care if I am spelling his name correctly. Barak stole my vote with explicit promises and unspoken commitments he never intended to fulfill. I would vote for a republican or an unknown party in a minute.

The alternatives I might consider among the Republicans are eliminated as the group, as a whole, can only be described as a “Clown College“. Rick Perry? The man is mentally damaged. Santorum? His sole  s  credentials are based in some type of white-boy, right-boy, social issues. Santorum as President is a film score for f-ed up right-wing version of the movie Blade Runner. Gingrich? That’s one angry and pissed-off ideologue. Whew! Ron Paul – I so do want a libertarian society and the downsizing of the Federal Pawprint on this nation, but not with him at the helm.

Anyone else? Got rid of the Lunatic Bachman, narrowly avoided Herman Cain (again, whew!), and….now, Mitt Romney, my former Governor,  the man without a vision. Romney is all the manager you can ask for, experienced in capital markets, and totally unsuited to be President. Shudder.

If I have missed anyone, it’s because I hardly give a listen to the Republican blather – not because I am not interested or very concerned, because I am. However, I am a sensitive soul, and I can only take so much disingenuousness until I get migraines.

Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, Paul, Perry – nausea. Jon Huntsman……… (got rid of the H in the edit)/

Here, in Jon Huntsman, we have a plainspoken, erudite, Global thinker, an expert on Chinese-American relations (speaks Mandarin Chinese), who does not give this democrat a headache.

Jon Huntsman is a Republican wildcard, endorsed by the Boston Glob (not sure how I feel about that), that actually engenders in me less revulsion than Barack Obama. Wow.

I will not be voting for Obama again – he betrayed me. I might vote for Jon Huntsman. If any other one of the Republican potential nominees are seated as President of our Fair Land in this  Wretched year of our  L-rd 2012………..I will enter a medically induced coma for the duration of the Presidential Term.

A Man with a sense of Dignity and Justice was the First Telecom Trust Buster – not a Government Agency

In the continuing saga of VAN Interconnections wielded as (instruments of) GXS’ anticompetitive leverage against besieged Loren Data Corp, I often refer to the tortured history of the AT&T divestiture that occurred over a period of some fifty years , the creation of two new Federal Agencies, and finally, the wrap-up of a consent decree that barely made anyone happy. I make particular reference to Kingsbury, an AT&T executive who, finally, compromised in principal with the interstate commerce commission (predecessor of FTC), and agreed not to pursue acquisitions of local telecoms quite so aggressively.  Whether Kingsbury actually delivered on his commitment is open to debate, but the record of his commitment mark an important point in the life-cycle of the AT&T behemoth in acquiescing to the reality of competition – albeit at the point of a government spear. But the Government would never have taken any initiative to act, had it not been for Bill McGowan, MCI’s Chairman, who started the Civil Antitrust actions against AT&T – and after many long years, won the rights to operate as a competitive Long Distance carrier with interconnections to AT&T’s network. We owe Bill McGowan a great deal. Now, Mr. McGowan is honored with the retelling of his inspiring story on PBS and other outlets, in a documentary called. “Long Distance Warrior“.

It’s good to reflect on what could have happened had AT&T won the right to maintain its monopoly over telecom services in the US market,  as well as the other North American markets and other franchises they had a grip on, such as transatlantic submarine cables: We would never have seen a whiff of the innovations that we take for granted. We would all undoubtedly be paying huge rates for intrastate calls, to say nothing of interstate and international calling rates. AT&T had become so powerful, with reserve cash balances exceeding the US Treasury. So many cases against AT&T fell into place once the national and legal consciousness got up to speed after the divestiture, and the seminal case of equipment attachment in Carterfone.

In the VAN world, the real interconnection problems are not about interconnections at all – these are party to party, reciprocal traffic routing exchanges that are not VAN business per se, but are routing agreements for the benefit of the users. Cooperative traffic services built the market for GEIS/GSX/Inovis/IBM Advantis before they were rolled-up, and the entire cohort of “legacy” VANs partake in these traffic routing agreements, thus insuring EDI users are not forced into sitting on one dominant VAN. Interconnections are the ultimate market lubricant, not mere technical agreements used to convey message traffic. Think on this.

The present difficulties between Loren Data Corp ECGrid and GXS TGMS is based on two forces being exploited by GXS: Traffic transfers between trading partners of unequal influence (large retail hubs are a must have route for the suppliers), and the primitive, outmoded architecture of VAN to VAN routing. Let me explain first:

The world of EDI networks will need some type of Transit Police if fair rules for InterVAN message transit cannot be established. Without such tariffs or FCC involvement, we will have more cases of routing arbitrage like Loren Data v. GXS . What has worked up until now, the agreements between collegial EDI networks, has been broken at a fundamental level. So, even when networks cooperate, the methods used to add, drop, move, and update Network ID’s and subscriber information is just a mess. The small VANs might have <5K network Id;s, the largest have well over 40,000. Loren Data Corp ECGrid is growing fast – moving up from a stable cohort of 19,000, and then busting out with the introduction of the ECGridOS API – ECGrid now is closing in on 22,000 ID’s, and is looking at a potential 30,000 if all of the current agreements are realized. If the EDI industry could just get its act together on directory services and ID portability, we would be halfway there to a fairer, flatter VAN market where any decent, competent network could connect to any one of several competitive pure transit providers, and thereby be connected to all of the VANs and hubs. That’s how things work on the Internet with Pure peering and paid transit. We could also expect more functional and innovative network level services that the current community of service providers and VANs could build new products and features upon.

So the first exploitation on GXS’s plate has been stifling the entry of new VANs and Service providers into the market, by not participating in cleaning up routing and directory services (network level services), as befits the largest EDI network in the industry – a leader, a steward of fair practices, a company that competes on its merits – we do not find this in the current corporate persona of GXS.

ECGrid, as an independent innovator, is not permitted  to interconnect with or route traffic in a native manner to TGMS, whereas the entire cohort of approximately 40 North American VANS plus a dozen or so European EDI networks do have such reciprocal agreements with GXS-TGMS. Therefore the prospects for Loren Data Corp competing in the market is diminished, as ECGrid is technically and financially disadvantaged compared to other networks that interconnect to GXS-TGMS.

Let’s face it, GXS took a lot of money from Francisco Partners and Golden Gate Capital, and used that capital to purchase IBM-IE, Inovis, and a plethora of supporting EDI properties. By gaining such clients via these acquisitions, (many are major retailers and manufacturers with large, diverse down-line trading partner networks) GXS has used the power of these TGMS homed clients to leverage Loren Data Corp who serves the EDI service providers who, in turn, service those parties who trade with GXS clients – get it? These are parties who are bound by a relationship to do business, well outside of any consideration of GXS, and have chosen a Service Provider, who has chosen ECGrid as a preferred EDI transit network, and…GXS has not permitted the data belonging to these parties to be conveyed to its natural destination. If  FedEx, UPS, USPS, (or any provider that takes the bailment of a customer’s messages or property) played such games, there would be hell to pay at the FTC. VANs, living under the FCC’s radar, existed prior to the 1996 telecom reform act, but they were providers of wireline conveyed services before the advent of the Internet. Maybe VANs of a certain size should be tariffed?

GXS grants reciprocal traffic exchange to just about every major and minor VAN, even their arch rival IBM-Sterling Commerce, and refuses to exchange traffic in alike manner with ECGrid – so we need EDI Transit Police. 

Loren Data Corp, under the direction of its intrepid President Todd Gould, has sought relief in the Antitrust laws, and has struggled somewhat to properly answer the well-funded GXS and its hired legal guns – and now the company is bound for the FCC’s administrative rule-making process. After all, in the words (Paraphrased) of Bill  McGowan, the Chairman of MCI who took AT&T to task, ” Are we just going to let these huge companies dictate who can compete? We just want a chance to bring a new idea (Competitive Long Distance) to market, just a chance to try a new thing.”

Well, that’s what Loren Data Corp wants to do: trying for the last ten years to bring a new type of EDI Communications to market with open APIs, pure transit, and better network management tools. Granting managed peer level access to its clients, as opposed to mailboxes, where any company or service provider-developer can become its own network commander. But when a network the size of GXS singles out a company 1/500th its size by every measure, using the leverage of its routing borders, then we have a problem. Whether the courts or agencies can see it, we all can see the injustice, I can see it, and anyone with a sense of decency and a respect for fair competition can see it.