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The Year 2000

The Year 2000 Introduction Many may dismiss the predictions that there would be a worldwide chaos on January 1, 2000 as many computers programmed with two-digit year fields would mistake it to be 1900 and breakdown. However, we need not wait for the turn of the century for the trouble. Signs of early troubles are already everywhere to sufficiently warrant both IT and business managers to take the issue seriously, if they have not already done so. What seemed as a reasonable solution to costly storage problem in past, would now cost, by some estimates, 600 Billion dollars to organizations worldwide. No matter what the final cost comes out to be, even at conservative 300 billion dollars, it is no pocket change.

All concern parties must have thorough understanding of the problem, its solutions, and possible ramifications. Importance of the Issue IT managers are not the only one who needs to understand the depth of Y2K problem. Business managers probably has more in stake here than any one else. If timely solutions are not achieved, many business stands to lose many billions of dollars in form of lost revenues. This loss does not include possible losses resulting from litigation and out-of-court settlements.

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Many firms, including some large ones, have continued to drag their feet on fixing Y2K related problems. Companies with Y2K problems now often cannot find people to work on those problems. Shortages of qualified people to work on Y2K projects are very evident globally. January 1st, 2000 is a non-flexible date that is sure to come without any mercy and possibility of extension. If companies are not addressing it by now, they are simply playing catch-up(14).

The good news is that the technical know-how exists and many tools are available. For many organizations, problem can be adequately addressed even if they start now – but for a higher cost, of course. Historical Perspective In 1956, Howard Aiken, a computer pioneer from Harvard University remarked: If it should ever turn out that basic logic of a machine design for numerical solution of differential equations coincide with the logic of a machine intended to make bills for a department store, I would regard this as the most amazing coincidence that I have ever encountered.(1) First, it was truly an amazing coincidence. Second, the first generation of computer programmers were also right by recording years as two digit numbers. It saved costly storage capacity.

Third, by another amazing chance, the result of a correct decision will be an expensive (may be the most expensive) industrial accident of our time. Many articles have included stories that show the date problem surfacing as early as 1993: In 1993, associated Press reported that Mary Bandar of Minnesota was invited to attend kindergarten classes, since she was born in 88. She was born in 1888 and was 104 years old. C.G. Blodgett’s auto insurance premium tripled when he was reclassified as youthful high-risk driver.

He turned 101. What is the Year 2000 problem? It is not one, but series of problems. It Involves software, computer hardware, data, people, and large amounts of money. Nature of these problems can be explained simply: until 1989, all of the standards followed to create computer programs stated that only last two digits would be used to identify the year. As the millennium nears, most computers would regard 2000 as 1900.

In late 1800s, Mr. Hollerith invented the punch card with 80 columns to help the U.S. Census done on time. Same cards has been in use for programming until recent time. Eighty characters of information was barely enough for a full name and address.

To save space for more important information, programmers designated two-digit year field assuming all years would have same prefix of 19. Even when computers were later equipped with larger storage capacities in magnetic form, memory was the most expensive part of the machine and programmers continued to use two-digit year field to save memory. How the problem continued Programmers of 1960s and 1970s assumed that these program would long be replaced with new ones before the turn of the century. Though the computer hardware has come a long ways in past 30 years, the mainframe machine is still with us – only faster and able to run old programs cheaply. Many of these programs were written for a specific company to do a specific job and over the years more features have been added but little has changed at the core level, including two-digit dates. Scope of the problem Solving the problem, looking from the top, is as simple as telling the computer to change all existing dates to four digits and only to accept four-digits dates from now on.

But few dates are easy to find in ‘date = MM/DD/YY format’. Many programmers used conventions such as john – mary = sue to calculate differences between two dates – – making it harder to find the date code if one is not familiar with the convention (3). But that is only the part of the problem. Over the years large amounts of data has been stored on disks and tapes and there are lots of duplicate data. In most part these data are stored in large files in a date sequence of collection.

Many programs that handles these physical resources cannot handle four-digit year. Business applications that depends on these systems to figure out person’s age, length of unpaid invoices, interest due on bank deposits and so on are in for plenty of trouble. (14). Furthermore, many businesses have used date stamping – – a method that use embedded dates in the records. Date stamps are automatically placed on the record by the system in many transaction tracing systems. Brian Hayes in January/February 1995 American Scientist used the following examples to describe the date stamping problem: At the local dairy, the oldest milk on hand is supposed to be shipped first, but in the early weeks of the new millennium milk from year 00 is given precedence. Indeed, any milk remaining from December 1999 will not be scheduled until the end of 2099.

Meanwhile, at the bakery across town a computer calculates the bread dated 01-01-00 must be a century old, and sends it to the landfill. Where Are We Now? If the companies and governments were to do nothing about the problem, unthinkable crisis would certainly follow. However, for a change, we have the media to thank for. Numerous reports, stories, and articles presented to people is likely to save us from such a disastrous possibility. No one can now say that they were not warned. Problem hits early The problems associated with the millennium bug have already started to prop up and many are expected to strike harder well before January 1, 1999.

A report published by Cutter Consortium outlines some Significant Milestones Prior to 2000 (2): Jan 1, 1999: reservation systems that accept booking one year ahead and business planning systems projecting forward one year. April 1, 1999: NY State and some companies 2000 fiscal year begins, affecting all fiscal systems July 1, 1999: 44 more states and other companies begin their fiscal years. Sept. 9, 1999: Programmers use 9999 as an end of file indicator, so date may confuse system. Oct.

1, 1999: federal government and many other companies begin fiscal year 2000. Management reactions Unfortunately, all companies are not reacting accordingly. While many addressed the problem in somewhat timely manner, others are dragging their feet. Many are taking wrong positions. As stated by William McDonough, President of Federal Reserve Bank of New York, they are(3): Denial.

The year 2000 is not an issue for our organization. No resource problems. Our organization can handle the year 2000 with its existing resources and within current budgets. Vendors will address the issue. Our outside vendors and service providers won’t let us down. Covered by contract.

Our lawyers have determined that we are appropriately protected by our legal agreements. On the other hand, Some companies decided to be silent. Management of these companies are fearful of shareholder suites claiming negligence. Many fears that acknowledgement of a serious Y2K problem within a business unit or across an enterprise may cause clients to flee and competitors to flock. The legal ramifications remain unclear for consulting services companies that have provided hardware and software solutions that did not include Year 2000 fixes in the recent past.

Others are awaiting the leadership of regulatory agencies and/or financial accounting standard bodies within the federal government for this unique event(3). News for late starters A new survey conducted by International Data corp., of Farmingham, Mass., found that small companies are more likely than the larger firms to neglect the year 2000 projects(10). Out of the 400 firms surveyed, 23% percent had not started the conversion project. A vast majority of these firms (88%) has annual revenue of $25 million or less. In the same survey CIOs and CFOs were asked to rate their concerns about year 2000 conversion. They rated impact on customers first, followed by their competitive position against other companies. Impact on the business partners was rated third, and financial impact was rated fourth.

If companies are not addressing the problem right now, they may be in for a lot of trouble. Only viable solutions are to retire and replace, or to repair the system. Ignoring the problem is not an alternative. They need to take an inventory of the software on a system and identify where Y2K will effect it and prioritize the order in which to fix problems. Organizations that did not contract for Year 2000 services by 1997 can expect to pay up to 100% premium to obtain services from leading service providers. Staffing and outsourcing Only 21 months to go, staffing the Year 2000 team could be a cause of major anxiety for companies.

According to Casper Jones, a noted year 2000 consultant, 1996 was the last year in which a midsize corporation with a software portfolio of a half-million function point could have finished work on time without extraordinary staffing measures. Those include halting all but emergency and required work, assigning up to 85% of staff, running round-the-clock efforts and partnering with consortia or industry groups.(6) Surveys show the growing staffing shortage and it will only continue to get worse. The real shortage will come when federal government will get serious about year 2000 fixes. Organizations with head start and adequate staff are not all that secure – they could be the target of companies seeking ready-made expertise. The cost to repair codes stands at $1.50 pe …


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