39 A PARTNERSHIP BUILT ON TRUST CHAPTER TWO needed updated software for billing, and electric utilities were beginning to look at additional services. Both CADP and NCDC began developing an e-billing product, enabling customers to pay their bills online before that service was available from the large investor-owned utilities. “All these nuances and changes to the [telecommuni- cations] industry were straining the software’s limits. It was stressing out what that billing software would do for us,” recalls Paul Freude, retired CEO and General Manager of Paul Bunyan Communications in Bemidji, Minnesota, who served on the NCDC Board and later became the first Chairman of the NISC Board to come from a telecom. By 1998, Dosch and Hobson both realized that the path forward would require more money and manpower to re-create software on a new programming platform. John Doggett, a management expert at the University of Texas Austin, and Steve Collier, an engineer and consultant in the utility industry, conducted strategic planning sessions for CADP and issued a warning: Software giant Oracle was prepared to enter the utility arena. Three regional data processing cooperatives — CADP, NCDC and Southeastern Data Cooperative (SEDC) — needed to achieve economies of scale if they were going to meet the accelerating requirements of Members, according to Doggett. As if underscoring their similar plight, in the fall of 1998, Dosch and Hobson found themselves seated next to each other at a National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation meeting in Springfield, Illinois. The topic of the regional conference: How co-ops should work together for the common good. They hardly knew each other, so they began with small talk. But when Hobson learned that Dosch’s flight was cancelled because of bad weather, he offered to drive him to St. Louis where he could catch another one. Bruce Walth, who worked for NISC for 37 years, became known as “Mr. CABs” because of his expertise with the complex telecommunications billing.