Maybe the VANs got it right?

By Bob Raida on


When I started working with EDI nearly 20 years ago I saw the opportunity (and need) to radically change the way businesses communicate.  My plan was to revolutionize B2B communication by overhauling the stodgy old EDI methods and technology.  In some ways I, and others with similar ideas, were successful.  E-commerce is now approachable for many small businesses with less costly translators and competitive services.  However, if you had told me 20 years ago that in 2015 VANs (Value Added Networks) would still be relevant I would not have believed you.   The Internet was the way to go; it would disrupt everything and the VANs would go away.  That’s why I think it’s interesting to compare Internet challenges, centered on the net neutrality debate, with the world of proprietary VANs.

I’ve heard many sides of the net neutrality debate – it seems everyone has different take-aways from the same set of proposed guidelines.  Most revolve around fear of perceived “fast lanes” and benefits of “unfettered access” where all traffic gets the same priority.  By the way, there are already “fast lanes” on the Internet.

At the root of the problem is the struggle over finite bandwidth resources.  This makes me wonder what the Internet would be like if it behaved more like a VAN, at least in terms of pricing.  I’m not proposing that ISPs hone their already formidable talents with respect to hidden charges and nonsensical billing, which most VANs are also very good at (Foundational notwithstanding, of course). Rather, I’m suggesting that the Internet would be more efficient – and net neutrality would largely become a non-issue – if the standard billing practice was for users to pay for what they consume.

This is a big concept that has also been widely debated and I’m not going to end the debate in this 500 word blog post.   However, I do think that with the right level of competition – and that’s the real challenge – it could work more effectively than one price unfettered access, and would not require the government to regulate the Internet.  Despite my predictions of 20 years ago, VANs are still relevant and doing well with a model where the price to the end users is commensurate with the volume they consume.  VANs have plenty of customers that accept the concept of metered traffic, and recognize the value they receive in terms of reliability, security, etc.  Naturally, the customers are free to seek out the most competitive price and take their business to the provider that brings them the best value proposition.  This is what’s necessary when selling and consuming a finite resource.

Foundational e-Business offers a variety of business to business e-commerce services, including reliable and cost effective VAN services.