A programming glitch forced Barnett Banks Inc. to shut down its centralized computer operations for more than five hours Tuesday.

Red-faced officials said that though the snafu resulted in no hard-dollar losses, it did disrupt service at the company's 592 branches, almost all of which are in Florida.

"We don't anticipate any financial loss, but the embarassment of not taking care of all our customers will certainly be around for a while," said Jonathan J. Palmer, chief technology officer of the Jacksonville-based company.

Mr. Palmer said two International Business Machines Corp. mainframes that handle the bulk of the bank's processing shut down at about 10 a.m. Tuesday. The reason: An unusual data base search caused a huge backlog of information requests that overloaded the system.

"It was basically the result of an inefficient program that tied up an inordinate amount of computing power for a couple of hours straight," he said.

Information Islands

While the mainframes were down, branch offices became information islands, with no access to central account files.

To reduce the likelihood of fraud, all large-dollar transactions had to be put on hold until the central system was restored at around 3 p.m. By then, most of the branch offices had closed.

Had the computer trouble stretched beyond Tuesday afternoon, Barnett was prepared to switch over to backup systems housed in an alternate processing site. But when it became clear that the problem could be solved in a few hours, a conversion offered no concrete benefit, he said.

Computer operations were fully restored when the bank opened for business Wednesday. Mr. Palmer said he expects operations to be back to normal by the end of this week.

Mr. Palmer was hired in 1990 to upgrade Barnett's computer operations. He has committed about $100 million to branch automation improvements over the next five years.

"[A computer crash] is something that should be a rare occurrence, and we are taking steps to ensure that it doesn't happen again here," Mr. Palmer said.

The technological upgrades are part of Barnett's overall plan to become more fit for the competition that is sure to come as Nations-Bank Corp. and other regional giants begin eyeing Barnett's retail market.

To fortify its position as Florida's largest bank, Barnett recently acquired First Florida Bank in Tampa, a $5 billion institution. When that acquisition is complete, Barnett will have more than $37 billion in assets.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.