Sinara at 30: Bigger projects (1995 to 1996)
In 2019, Sinara Consultants are celebrating our 30th anniversary. This 3rd post in the series covers our move into bigger projects with exciting new technologies such as smartcards and mobile phone software.
1995 was an exciting year for Sinara with the chance to work on two separate innovative projects. At Nat West, Phil was delivering the host software for Mondex, the smart card electronic cash system that was literally ahead of its time. Phil enjoyed managing his team of 10 C++ developers so much that he hasn’t written a line of code since (except perhaps SQL and Excel macros).
Even more appealing was the SMS development undertaken in-house for mobile telephony pioneer Orbitel. Now despite what Phil’s children may have been told it is not the case that Sinara sent the first ever text message, that was in December 1993 to the first GSM aware mobile, the Orbitel 901. But 18 months later it was still unclear whether text messages would become popular, and most phones could only receive messages not create them. Orbitel asked Sinara to develop Windows PC software which would allow remote control of text messages using an interface cable to an upgraded Orbitel 902 mobile handset. The product was great fun to develop, and was successfully delivered but its launch made little impact as Nokia’s products caught the world’s imagination. With hindsight, there were a number of better GSM/SMS related product ideas to be thought of, but not for the first or last time Sinara found itself at the mercy of other people’s good ideas.
1995 was also the year that saw two key additions to the Sinara team. Vinod Ghantiwala, an engineering colleague from our early Datacorp days, but now working at Citibank, was persuaded to join and became our fourth director, bringing a calm authority and an impeccable dress-sense to the existing board.
It also became clear that office administration was not the best way to use Steve’s time, particularly when taking account of his nocturnal working hours. Therefore Iain Mackay started working as our office administrator, initially part-time to see how things would work out. After many years of hard work and keeping things running, Iain headed off for a happy retirement at the end of 2018.
1996 was a steady progression from previous years. Vinod’s Citibank contacts provided some new projects, whilst the Mondex development continued. Our market data experience broadened further as we undertook work for Micrognosis including an interface to the Ticker Plant Frankfurt (TPF) feed.
The evolution of Datacorp continued as ACT morphed into Midas-Kapiti International, part of the Misys group. This provided new opportunities to sort out problems within other people’s software, something of a Sinara speciality both before and since. Although not superficially attractive, there is an intellectual challenge in reverse engineering a software design from a bunch of undocumented source files. There is a practical benefit too; as well improving the software in question, the understanding it brings puts Sinara in a good position to build a replacement system if and when required. This also formed the basis of the ‘System Stabilise & Support Service’ that we still provide.
By the end of 1996 we were confident that Sinara Consultants was firmly established with a promising future. We had an office, an administrator, and plenty of development work with four directors together with four full-time software engineers to carry that work out. What would happen next?