sealPurdue Business Briefs

September 1996

Purdue process extends computer life beyond 2000

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A computer process developed at Purdue University can extend the life of billions of dollars worth of business computer programs into the 21st century.

When programs for many mainframe computers were written decades ago, they recorded the year in all dates as a two-digit number, assuming it would be preceded by "19." That will cause problems for hundreds of thousands of computer programs after Dec. 31, 1999, says Jerry D. Smith, director of administrative computing operations at Purdue.

Nearly every university, government agency and major corporation will face this issue before the turn of the century. "This is a major and expensive problem," Smith says. "I know some other universities have already spent several hundred thousand dollars just to examine the extent of the problem. That does not even begin to pay for correcting the situation."

A U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on government management, information and technology reported July 30 that fixing the computer systems of the federal government could cost at least $30 billion.

Research universities like Purdue could spend tens of millions of dollars if they decided to replace all their affected computer programs, says Bonnie J. Wharton, project manager in Purdue's Management Information office.

The issue affects all the business-related mainframe programs at Purdue, Smith says. "We were looking at a major overhaul or replacement of our COBOL-language programs because of this problem. Just in our operations, we were dealing with more than 100 subsystems, 13,000 programs and 7 million lines of code. We could not afford to purchase all new programming, and we had to find a cost-effective way to modify the programs we had."

About three years ago, several staff members were assigned that task. Smith says they developed a process that uses software to examine the COBOL programs, the most common language for business computer programs, and identify the sections of the computer code that need to be modified. A programmer then makes the changes to the code, but does not have to change any of the pre-existing data. Although the process was developed and tested on COBOL programs, the concepts could be adapted to other programming languages, Smith says.

"As we started analyzing and converting our systems, we realized that we were not the only ones facing this problem," Smith says. "We realized that we had something that could be distributed as a solution to other public and private organizations."

The process developed at Purdue is one of the first "year 2000" correction products to be distributed commercially, Smith says. The process is being marketed by a high-tech start-up company, Venture 2M Inc., of Jacksonville, Fla.

Wharton says that although about 100 firms are starting to market "year 2000" services, only a half dozen or so are providing solutions. "Most of the companies are just providing evaluation tools to identify the extent of the problem," she says.

Jerry Brubaker, vice president for marketing at Venture 2M, says the company will focus on the ease of use for COBOL programmers. "The key advantage to the solution is that it doesn't require a programmer to change records, files, input, historical or archival data," he says. "A programmer does not even have to change data fields in the application. Programmers will spend a minimum of time identifying and correcting the problem areas within their subsystems. With this process, a company with 100 programs in a subsystem could make the conversion in about 150 hours."

The process already has fixed more than half of Purdue's administrative mainframe programs and has been offered to most of the other Big Ten universities. Indiana University has started using the process to convert its systems. Venture 2M is working out an agreement to sublicense the process to other resellers and also is installing the process in its customers' mainframes.

CONTACTS: Smith, (765) 494-1291; e-mail,; Brubaker, (904) 731-1622; Wharton, (765) 494-1877; e-mail,

Pension funds waste energy on sub-par firms, study says

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Copies of the study are available from Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2077.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Instead of trying to improve the performance of a lagging firm, pension funds might get more bang for your buck if they dumped the slacker from their portfolio and invested in another company.

Unfortunately, says Sunil Wahal, assistant professor of finance in Purdue University's Krannert Graduate School of Management, pension funds are reluctant to make such major adjustments in their portfolio.

"In the '80s we witnessed a 'takeover' phenomenon that was generally viewed as a good thing because it supposedly weeded out bad managers," he says. "Later in the decade, these buyouts became less trendy and pension funds became active investors."

Pension funds make suggestions to shareholders, such as replacing key officers, adding more independent directors or restructuring the firm. Wahal says none of this appears to have much impact on the firm's performance, and in many cases, it might be better to invest in another firm altogether.

In a seven-year study that appears in the Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, Wahal looked at the performance of firms held by nine of the most active pension funds in the country. Fund assets range from $13 billion to $125 billion. Wahal discovered that despite a pension fund's most intensive efforts, there was no significant effect on a company's performance.

"In fact, many times the troubled firm may perform worse after making suggested changes," he says. "In most instances there is no appreciable increase in stock price, and operating performance doesn't improve."

What it boils down to, Wahal says, is that pension fund activism is no substitute for an active takeover market. "You or I wouldn't hold on to stock that was performing poorly, especially if we could invest in a company that was doing better," he says. "But that's what these funds are doing, and they're doing it with our money."

CONTACT: Wahal, (765) 494-4488; e-mail,

Women in high-tech jobs point to gains

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Many women in scientific and technical fields are fairly content with their work and say they have made gains in the workplace since they began employment, according to a Purdue University study.

"A lot of the women in the study were older and have already fought their way through quite a bit, such as sexual harassment and the 'glass ceiling,'" says Carolyn Boiarsky, assistant professor of English at Purdue Calumet in Hammond. "Many feel they have made tremendous gains since they began working, and today they're fairly happy with their jobs."

Boiarsky, who teaches business and technical writing, conducted the study with five other women members of the International Professional Communication Society, part of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.

The majority of the women who responded to the latest survey were in their 30s and 40s with a college degree, had been in the labor force more than 10 years, were married, and earned $20,000 to $40,000 annually. Among the survey findings:

Surveys were sent to participants in an earlier study Boiarsky did on women in high-tech fields. The latest survey recipients, from more than 20 states, were asked to copy and distribute the questionnaires to other women in technical and scientific areas in their organization. A total of 295 women returned the questionnaire. Boiarsky's study was published in the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers Transactions on Professional Communication.

Boiarsky also is owner of Effective Communication Associates in Hammond, which provides training and consulting in written and oral communication to high-tech industries.

CONTACT: Boiarsky, (219) 989-2207; e-mail,

Health-care study finds many caregivers overwhelmed

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Working adults who are primary caregivers to elderly family members are clamoring for information about community resources, stress management and mental incapacities of the elderly, say two Purdue University School of Nursing researchers.

Jo A. Brooks, head of the School of Nursing, and Peg Krach, associate professor of nursing, surveyed 760 caregivers at Purdue. They found that caregiving responsibilities often interfered with family activities (56 percent of the respondents), leisure activities (52 percent), and work (39 percent).

"Presently, family members are caring for over 7 million older persons, and it's projected that number will rise to an astounding high of 14.4 million by the year 2050," Brooks says. "As family caregivers are the primary source of daily assistance to older adults, it's crucial that we keep this caregiving component of our nation's health care system viable."

The average person in the study was a 52-year-old married woman with children under the age of 18. Caregivers most often were called upon to help with household chores, personal care, managing finances, providing financial support and transportation, and companionship. One-fourth to about one-third of them had a variety of health problems, including headaches, nervousness, insomnia, weight gain or loss, and unusual drowsiness.

Subjects spent anywhere from one to 30 hours per week helping their elderly relatives, with an average of five hours weekly. About 12 percent visited the elderly daily, 28 percent weekly, 13 percent several times a month, and 46 percent monthly.

Krach says: "The working caregiver should be a major focus of nursing research. Health care professionals need to become more involved with developing, implementing and evaluating programs to assist caregivers of the elderly."

CONTACTS: Brooks, (765) 494-4004; e-mail,; Krach, (765) 494-4026

Compiled by Victor B. Herr, (765) 494-2077; Internet:
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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