We all face challenges preparing for the new millennium. So when a vendor has information that can help customers fix year 2000 problems, does it have the right to charge for it?
Getting a year 2000 compliant version of a product used for application development is only part of the battle, as one reader who uses PowerHouse 4GL can testify.
"While recent versions of PowerHouse are Y2K compliant, it is possible to develop non-compliant applications with these versions without intending to do so," he wrote recently. "While the upgrades are available at no extra cost to those paying an annual maintenance, it's not always easy to determine if a given application is completely compliant without extensive testing."
Fortunately, Cognos has developed Power 2000, a tool to test for possible year 2000 compliance issues in PowerHouse-developed source code. Unfortunately, the company is charging a base price of $US15,000.
"That price exceeds the cost of the PowerHouse development and run-time licences at my organisation," the reader wrote, adding that he pays several thousand dollars a year in maintenance fees. "Power 2000 is priced steeply in comparison to the cost of licensing PowerHouse. I believe the pricing, like many other Y2K remediation programs, is artificially high."
Although the reader said he feels that the overall functionality of Power 2000 doesn't justify the price tag for a small company like his, Cognos officials argue that most PowerHouse customers will find it a bargain.
"In our consulting efforts, we had contracts to address year 2000 issues for some very progressive PowerHouse customers who were getting ready early," says Ed Shepherdson, director of 4GL products at Cognos. "From that we developed a knowledge base of some 500 issues unique to PowerHouse that customers could have coded into their applications. With what we knew, we wanted to develop a tool that would help our customers identify these problems, and that's what Power 2000 is."
Power 2000 identifies all such potential issues in PowerHouse code and helps to manage the process of fixing those that prove to be real year 2000 bugs, Shepherdson says.
"This tool can provide significant savings on the analysis side and significant savings on corrections and fixes that go into the application. We've seen up to 90 per cent savings in the time it takes to analyse PowerHouse code," Shepherdson says.
Because the product is designed specifically for PowerHouse code, Shepherdson adds, users can also be more confident that they have identified all potential year 2000 issues.
Shepherdson acknowledges that the product may not make sense for some customers but says it will save money for most.
Let us assume
Because we have no reason to think otherwise, let us assume for the sake of argument that Power 2000 is everything Shepherdson says it is. If so, there must indeed be many PowerHouse customers who feel Power 2000 is more than worth what they paid for it; I'm sure there are customers of other 4GL products who only wish their vendors would offer something similar. If it's worth it to people, why shouldn't Cognos charge for it?
On the other hand, those PowerHouse customers like our reader who don't feel they can afford it are left in a bad spot. They can attempt to fix their code without Power 2000, of course, but they will be doing so without the knowledge Cognos has accumulated about PowerHouse-specific year 2000 issues. And some of those issues, Shepherdson says, are ones that you most likely wouldn't identify at first glance. So 15 months from now our reader may discover the real cost of not getting Power 2000. Is it right for Cognos to withhold information from maintenance-paying customers that may help them avoid that fate?