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Making money off Y2K concerns

Some have likened our emerging computer technology industry to the California Gold Rush, when hundreds of thousands flocked to the Sierra Nevada foothills to seek their fortunes.

If you were among the migrating throng in 1849, you probably didn’t get rich – unless you were a merchant. Many entrepreneurs made their fortunes selling supplies and know-how to gold-seekers who didn’t really know what they were doing.

Fast forward to 1999 and a new breed of entrepreneur – those who will seek and destroy your Y2K computer problems, for a price. As the new millennium approaches, there is suddenly a huge crowd of software companies, consulting firms and computer experts scrambling for their piece of the multi-billion dollar Y2K compliance market.



Call them The Bug Busters.

“I put up my Web site about two weeks ago, and I’m finding it difficult to keep up with the demand,” said Jeff Pannier, whose company, Digital Networks, offers digital scans and software to help small business owners make their computers Y2K-compliant.




“Many small business owners aren’t even sure they have a problem, then find out that Y2K is a nightmare,” he said. “You may think that because you have only four or five PCs, that you are immune. But when 2000 gets here, every small business in the nation that works on a computer will be in danger of collapsing.”

Pannier’s company works like this: You call up his Web site (www.Y2Kfix2000.com) and download a free version of his Millennium Bug software. This scans your computer system software for any Y2K conflicts, and lists them. Then you go back onto the site and purchase the required repair software, which writes the code to fix the problem.

The Y2K fix runs in the background of your computer system – acting much like a virus scan – and lasts until 2003. By that time, say experts, The Millennium Bug danger will be long gone.

Pannier also sells programs which will check your hardware, and offers advice. The price – $149 – is among the lowest you will find on the Internet, and is an apparent bargain considering that Pannier also offers a money-back guarantee and a tech line for bug-busting by e-mail.

“I received about 300 e-mails the first week, and so far I’ve had no complaints,” said Pannier, whose regular business is as a Pittsburgh-based computer technician in the health care industry.

“People are always talking about the big companies failing because of Y2K,” he said. “But the corporations are ready for 2000. People don’t realize that 90 percent of this crazy country is running through small businesses.

“There’s an insurance agent upstairs from my office, and everything he does is on computer. If it crashes, he’s done until he gets it fixed. He could lose his business.”

Some might say that these are exactly the kind of scare tactics that Y2K fixers such as Pannier want you to buy into – purchase our software, or face the wrath of Y2K.

But there is much here to take to heart. For instance, even those who have recently purchased new computers should have their systems checked to be sure they are Y2K compliant. Microsoft offers a “Y2K patch” at their Web site, which must be downloaded to insure that their new Windows ’98 will be bug free.

Many large corporations are also aware of the threat to small business, and are taking steps to make sure that their suppliers have their act together regarding Y2K.

“General Motors was shut down recently when two small suppliers went on strike,” said John Glover, a Y2K consultant whose Web site, Millennium Plus, helps small, P.C.-based clients. “A company like G.M. just assembles cars, it’s really at the mercy of its small suppliers. If the company that supplies the brakes goes down due to Y2K, if affects everyone.”

So corporations such as G.M. and Ford hire consultants to travel around and prod their suppliers, making sure the Millennium Bug is well in hand.

“I’ve been involved (in Y2K compliance) for about two years now,” Glover said. “But I’ve worked with computers for 30 years. We went through something similar to this in 1969, when I was learning computer programming in the Navy. In those days we used the four-digit Julian date, and our computers all crashed when the date clicked over to 1970. I remember thinking that I don’t want to be in this business in the year 2000, because our whole world is going to fall apart.”

In addition to companies which offer help for the little guy, there are also larger companies – such as the San Francisco-based Forecross Corp., and San Jose’s Ascent Logic – which cater to larger firms.

The industry is booming. The Gartner Group of Stamford, Conn., estimates that companies will spend upward of $400 billion upgrading their computer systems for Y2K.

“The larger the company, the more likely it is to be on top of the issue,” said Tom Oleson, a Y2K research specialist with the International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass. “It’s with the smaller companies that the majority of the problem lies.

“It’s not a huge problem for smaller companies to become Y2K compliant. But they have to get on it.”

Next: How ready is El Dorado County? Bugs in our own back yard.

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