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THE CUTTING EDGE / CYBERCULTURE

Language Professor

Software: Sushil Garg's integration firm helps companies' old mainframes communicate with modern PCs.

January 19, 1998|P.J. HUFFSTUTTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sushil Garg remembers a quiet day in Hawaii when the water was warm, the sky was clear and a new computer language was about to be born.

It was 1975. The computer engineer was working on finding new applications for an emerging line of minicomputers, the predecessors of today's PCs. But the programs Garg was trying to build wouldn't work the way he wanted.

"I couldn't figure out how to fix what I was doing, so I stumbled into writing a new language," said Garg, 45, chief executive of Garg Data International Inc.

That initial step led Garg down a successful path, as he turned his tinkerings on the sunny Honolulu coastline into a booming Newport Beach-based company that specializes in helping clients modernize their older technology. Garg Data's sales rose 25% last year to about $20 million, from about $16 million in 1996, the company said.

At a time when the life cycle of computer technology continues to shrink, the software developer and systems integrator has found a profitable yet often overlooked niche: making old computer mainframes work with networks of modern PCs.

"We're the stealth company, the people who quietly come in and make sure all of your computers talk to each other," said Jerry Schuman, chief technology officer for Garg Data. "We make sure all the guts of a company's computer network run right."

Thanks to several recent acquisitions, Garg Data has a solid presence in a few key markets: insurance, manufacturing and entertainment.

The firm's clients include computer-distribution giant Ingram Micro Inc., which hired Garg to help create and install an electronic system for processing customer orders and billings, and Hilton Hotels Corp., which was seeking a more efficient internal system for booking reservations.

The company has a staff of about 250 and offices in Chatsworth, Los Angeles, San Diego and New York. It also maintains an office of computer programmers in Garg's birthplace, New Delhi.

Ingram Micro hired Garg Data after considering several proposals from other systems integrators. Ingram, the world's largest distributor of computer products, wanted to overhaul its internal network, as well as develop a method for customers to electronically browse and buy from Ingram's stockrooms.

"It was important to us to have someone who understood all the different pieces of our company and could install a piece of software that allows our resellers to get into our mainframe," said David Carlson, chief technology officer for Ingram Micro. "You'd be surprised how difficult it is to understand the architecture of a company's computer systems and to figure out ways to make them more efficient."

That's what Garg Data has done for Fox Broadcasting Co. In 1994, the television network grabbed the rights to carry NFL games, scoring a major coup over the big three broadcasters--CBS, NBC and ABC.

There was only one problem. Fox's piecemeal computer system needed a massive update.

An old mainframe stored in-house data ranging from sales of national commercial spots to program schedules. A slew of personal computers held other data. Fox used a third system for its general accounting and billing practices.

Then there were the added demands created by the NFL contract. For example, there might be seven games occurring simultaneously, each with its own set of commercials, commentary and blackout periods.

Fox initially worked with CompuFlex International Inc. of Chatsworth, which helped merge the computer systems. Garg Data acquired the San Fernando Valley firm in 1996 and continued to build on the foundation it laid.

Over time, Fox's system has evolved into a PC-based network that links the broadcast satellites with the billing network and creates a record for every commercial that hits the air.

"It works really well. That's why we've engaged [Garg Data] to develop some other new computer projects for us," said Walt Watson, director of systems for Fox.

Garg, known for his quiet humor and earnest demeanor, says he realizes his company has grown very quickly over the last couple of years--perhaps too quickly.

After an aggressive acquisition period, he hopes to spend the next year expanding his staff and exploring new ways to use the Internet for electronic commerce.

"Using the Net for business means more than just opening up storefronts on the Web," Garg said. "It's a media for communication, and we're just starting to explore the limits and where it can take us.

"For me, that means the future is going to be exciting."

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