Dow Bug, Street Shrugs

Plus, Internet telephony.

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Are you tired of reading stories about the Year 2000 (Y2K) problem? Here comes the latest computer crisis du jour: the Dow Jones 10,000 (D10K) problem. This time, however, the sky doesn’t seem to be falling.

The problem has to do with the possibly imminent rise of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) to the 10,000 mark. The chief Cassandra is Andy Kyte, analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Group, who writes: “Alarming evidence is emerging that many enterprises will face severe difficulties in their information-processing systems when the [DJIA] reaches 10,000…. Trading organizations face potential massive exposure if the DJIA passes 10,000 and their systems interpet it as 1,000 or 0,000…. This is a real and present threat.”

Trouble is, companies that have studied this issue don’t seem to think there’s much to the problem. Commerce Bancshares Inc., for example, isn’t worried. “We don’t make decisions based on an aggregate value like the DJIA,” says Patrick Dowling, Year 2000 project coordinator for the Kansas City, Mo.-based bank. “We make decisions based on the prices of the underlying stocks, so our software won’t run into the 10,000 problem.”

Michael Atkin, vice president of financial information markets at the Information Industry Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group, says the D10K problem is “no story.” He says major real-time market- and historical-data vendors, such as Bloomberg, Data Broadcasting, Dow Jones, and Standard & Poor’s ComStock, are ready for a 10,000 Dow. So are major trading organizations. Atkin says the industry became aware of such problems years ago, first when Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 index broke the 10,000 barrier and more recently when the price of Berkshire Hathaway stock passed $10,000.

Atkin notes that only Dow Jones is legally allowed to calculate the average, and the Chicago Board of Trade is the sole “gateway” for disseminating it. For subscribers with six- digit (including two decimal places) software, data vendors would send a 10,000+ Dow with one decimal place and inform the subscriber of the truncation, says Atkin.

Companies using business-process software that incorporates the Dow average may have to replace it if it cannot handle the extra digit. Still, the impact of such changes would be minuscule compared with that of the Y2K problem.

Or, for that matter, compared with other changes. IT departments should be watching for numerous glitches that arise as time passes, prices rise, and numbers of products and employees increase, causing built-in limits of legacy software to be exceeded. According to Capers Jones, chairman of Software Productivity Research Inc., “Several billion dollars a year are already being spent just due to frequent changes in telephone area codes.”

———————————————– ——————————— Talk Is Cheap
Making telephone calls over the Internet, including international calls, free of long- distance charges, has been possible for several years–for those willing to put up with the inconvenience, long pauses, and poor voice quality. However, new Internet telephony products are much more convenient, with improved voice quality.

For example, whenever someone in the St. Louis office of Universal Sewing Supply Inc. picks up an ordinary phone and dials someone in the Santo Domingo office, the call automatically goes over the public Internet. The company has installed Internet Telephony Gateway products from VocalTec Inc. (www.vocaltec.com) in both St. Louis and Santo Domingo. These gateways, which are computer servers, connect the company’s internal phone system to the Internet. The gateways, costing $27,000 for both, can handle four voice calls and two fax calls simultaneously.

“Although the voice can be a bit choppy during peak periods, most of the time the voice quality is very good,” says Curt Geiler, technical systems administrator for the industrial sewing supplies distributor. Geiler says monthly long-distance charges between St. Louis and Santo Domingo of $2,800 have been reduced to $500 by installing the gateways. “We still occasionally have to use commercial lines to send a fax through during peak periods,” he says.

Integration of phone systems not only with the Internet but with other corporate networks is becoming increasingly common, according to Jeff Pulver, president of consulting firm Pulver.Com. “Companies should be considering merging their telephone departments and their IT departments, since the technology is becoming more and more integrated,” he says, predicting that those that do so now “will have a big competitive advantage within five years.”

A list of Internet telephony vendors can be found at Pulver’s Web site: www.pulver.com.

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