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Are you prepared for Y2K shock?

Will a four-digit number bring the world to its knees? If managers responsible for fixing the Y2K problem in their systems have not already begun to correct the problems that will be caused by the year 2000 bug, it's probably too late. The time needed to find, fix, and test the programs-not to mention the size of the labor force required-is vastly underrated. It is estimated that only 85 percent of the software in the U.S. will actually be fixed by the year 2000. The negative impact on our economy, not to mention world trade, could be enormous.

The number of interrelated industries affected by date-critical issues is hard to comprehend. One must stop and reflect that the entire network is impacted by the sudden crash of any single piece of the system. Banks, schools, utilities, financial markets, world trade, Social Security, public assistance, state and federal government, etc. will, if not properly prepared, grind to a halt. Servicing the customer of date-sensitive products (e.g., Social Security checks) will be impossible. The massive amount of date-specific data affecting our lives every day is endless.

The Costs

A simple date change glitch could add as much as one-half point to inflation and could cost the U.S. as much as $119 billion in lost economic output. This would result from the diversion of funds and productive effort required to repair the problem. Also, what about the global impact of companies or countries that cannot afford to fix their systems? Determining the impact of the domino effect caused by service companies that depend on information from other companies must be a global effort. This means that no one link in the chain should be allowed to break.

The impact on the financial world should be one of major concern. It is believed that Western Europe is far behind the U.S. in its quest to comply with the Y2K correction. It is estimated that only 65 percent of their systems will be in compliance by the year 2000. This will greatly affect financial systems in the U.S. European banks are not focused on the Y2K problem because they are still concentrating on handling the conversion to the Euro. The impact on world trade of this absence of focus has not been fully ascertained. Asian countries are in even worse condition because they are focused on the mere survival of their economies.

Among the most challenging issues are problems of data interfaces, shortages of software programmers (estimates are that there are 350,000 job vacancies), and a lack of contingency plans if systems do not operate correctly when they are put back into service. Existing systems are very complex and no one knows in advance the amount of time that will be needed to debug and test each portion of the system. The demand for programmers with skills in some of the older programming languages has increased dramatically. Salaries for systems integrators and consultants have increased 25 percent in the past year.

New Tools

Another ballooning market is that of the year 2000 bug tool. In 1996 there were 50 companies selling correction tools; by the beginning of 1998 there were over 125 with most of that increase occurring at the end of 1997. Some companies prefer the in-house method for repairing their systems, using off-the-shelf methods in limited areas. Others, as the year 2000 draws near, have relied on the tool market for assistance. Some correction packages deal directly with software applications, and are considered by most to be in the early stages of development. The initial consensus appears to be that tools addressing specific computing environments are producing the best results.

Another family of tools includes a user language tool, a database analysis tool, and a field migration facility that changes two-digit year date fields to four-digit fields, while allowing database users to continue using two-digit fields on screen. This database-centric approach is different from the majority of solutions that leave databases as they are, while confining the data changes to the application logic.

Whether the in-house method or database-centric method is used, it is clear that the majority of the time is spent in the painstaking process of testing codes. The process involves isolating and copying data, testing one piece at a time, then placing it back into production. Regression testing is used for testing larger amounts of data. Regardless of the method chosen, testing is viewed as the most important element of the process and represents over half of the cost and effort of the Y2K project.

Sufficient Warning

With opinions varying on the impact of the Y2K bug ranging from sheer panic to mild annoyance, it is clear that the world has had fair warning to prepare in advance. The global economy demands that an effort be made by the U.S. to establish the impact the Y2K bug will have on our future financial stability. This is not only contingent upon our own compliance, but the possible non-compliance of foreign countries. Further, we must develop contingency plans to establish and deal with multiple case scenarios. We do not live within the walls of our offices, but as part of a complicated economic community. We must determine where critical issues may arise and then aid in the solutions of those problems, regardless of the country of origin. If we get caught with our Y2K down, it won't be because of the lack of advance notice!

MARK SABET is the owner and president of MIS Computers in Cerritos, CA. He has been a lecturer in computers and information systems for the School of Business and Economics at California State University, Los Angeles since 1985. He also is an adjunct professor in information systems at the University of La Verne. His considerable consulting experience includes assignments at the State Bank of India, the DeVry Institute, and several law firms in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, CA.
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Title Annotation:Year 2000 transition problem
Author:Sabet, Mark
Publication:Business Forum
Article Type:Column
Date:Jun 22, 1998
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