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Return to: 1998 Feature Stories

CLIENT: IN-TOUCH MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS, INC.

Dec. 14, 1998: Newsday

THE YEAR 2000 PROBLEM: IN-TOUCH WITH 'BUG ZAPPERS'

The Year 2000 "bug" nearly nibbled at Cliff Tompkins' pager business, but a Long Island company swatted it just in the nick of time.

Within the past year, Tompkins, vice president of operations and finance at Paging Dimensions Inc., discovered that the software that had run the company's paging business since its inception would fail as early as next month.

The problem: The software cannot handle dates after Dec. 31, 1999, and Paging Dimensions sends out annual bills a year in advance.

So Tompkins turned to Melville, NY-based In-Touch Management Systems, Inc., one of the rare companies whose software has been free of the Year 2000 bug from the start.

"I recognized that these types of problems come around to bite you," said Alan J. hills, president of In-Touch, a paging software company. "It's twice as much effort to do it wrong as it is to do it right the first time."

Such prescience has proved profitable: Paging Dimensions is one of several new customers who have switched to In-Touch to avoid the Year 2000 bug.

Billing software is critical to paging companies because it sets up new accounts, adds new features and bills the customers. A software failure could mean Orange, Calif.-based Paging Dimensions couldn't bill customers or add new customers or features.

"We sell air time," Tompkins said. "That's all we do. And if you can't keep track of the air that you sell, then you're not in business. I would rather have a satellite fall out of the sky. That is a much lower-level problem than having your billing system fail."

To avoid failure, Tompkins selected In-Touch, which installed its Year 2000-compliant software last month.

In-Touch avoided the bug because its software never assumes that dates occur in the 1900s, a gaffe that hoards of programmers made to save precious computer memory by excluding the "19" in the year when storing dates.

Hills, a former computer programmer, recognized the Year 2000 could be a problem when he designed the original software for In-Touch in the early 1980s.

Hills knew about the problem because he had worked in the insurance industry, which encountered the glitch early on because insurers issue long-term policies that extend past 2000, so their computers needed to correctly read dates that extended long past 2000.

Despite Hills' foresight, some of In-Touch's customers worry.

"It's a tough thing to try to convince people, especially when they're scared," Hills said.

Several customers have asked In-Touch to prove the software is compliant. So company employees move the date forward on a test machine, and run various procedures to show the software will continue to work in 2000.

Smaller businesses just ask the company if the software is compliant, said Michael Futeran, vice president of In-Touch.

"It's the larger businesses that have spent money on consultants that ask questions," he said.

In-touch can confidently reassure them, Hills said.

"The Year 2000 is not an issue," he said. The Year 10,000 is a problem, by the way, but I'm not going to worry about that."

Return to: 1998 Feature Stories