Y2K quick fixes spark new round of upgrades

For National City Corp., a bank with more than 1,500 corporate and retail chains, data conversion concerns didn’t go away with year 2000.

The Cleveland-based bank retrofitted a critical application with Y2k-compatible dating a year ago. But that process introduced complications into already unwieldy applications.

It’s a problem many IT shops faced in 2000: applications that once hummed along effortlessly were crippled by the date fixes undertaken to keep them in production.

NCC spent $10 million six years ago to custom-build a customer support application, a vital tool for tracking credit and transaction histories and contacts of its corporate accounts. But with the century date-change issue not yet on the horizon, the developers failed to make the three-tiered application Y2k-compliant.

“We discovered that the real difficulty would occur after the clock ticked over [to 2000],” said Jim Hughes, CIO at the $92 billion-in-assets bank. “There were issues with the way the system was developed, which made it difficult to modify the software while it was in production. And we were using old versions of the tools that had not been kept up-to-date.”

Phillip Murphy, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., said numerous companies sought to overhaul key applications after getting over the Y2k hurdle.

“A lot of folks ran out of time to do it right and put a kludge in,” said Murphy. “Other companies have made their code more difficult to use and problematic in the way they patched it.”

To get out of its three-tiered quagmire, NCC used conversion software from Relativity Technology Inc. in Cary, N.C., to transform the application into a Web-enabled and browser-based architecture. It cost NCC about $3 million and took nine months to revamp the application, Hughes said, but he estimated that it would have cost twice that to rewrite the application from scratch.

“The Y2k push highlighted how complicated the legacy world is,” said Tyler McDaniel, an analyst at Hurwitz Group Inc. in Framingham, Mass. “There was a desire for the quick fix to maintain applications. The Y2k push is done, so budgets are swinging back and moving toward Web-enabled commerce.”

More using Web-based apps

Some companies faced a different post-Y2k irony: having to scrap problematic applications they had spent time and cash to fix.

Scott Davis, a database administrator at Pabst Brewing Co. in San Antonio, is in the midst of converting a mammoth, eight-year-old database to the Web. Y2k salvage work kept the legacy application – which contains hundreds of tables on Pabst’s promotions, pricing, credit and tax formulas – in production. Yet after the conversion is completed, Pabst plans to scrap the DOS-based database.

“The beer business is tough,” said Davis. “The 50 states have 50 different requirements.” Using software from Austin, Texas-based Data Junction Corp., Davis said he hopes to widen access to the system and make it easier to manage by converting the database into a Web-enabled system that supports Windows clients and a SQL Server 7 back end.