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The 2000 year glitch: will your computer be able to usher in the new millenium?

As the new millennium approaches, apocalyptic pundits have increased their predictions of our society's impending doom. Although most people tend to cast them aside, the computer world had better take notice. The reason: many older computers and applications won't be able to correctly calculate dates (such as 1/1/2000) that require a four-digit date field.

The problem started more than 30 years ago during the infancy of computer technology. When designing applications, computer programmers limited the number of available spaces for registering the date in order to conserve, what was then, a very limited (and expensive) supply of internal memory. Thus they incorporated the MM/DD/YY convention for assigning dates--both in computers' basic input/output system (BIOS) and in the coding Or applications--limiting the computer to two digits for each field. That was fine for the current century, but when the year 2000 arrives, things may get crazy.

"The problem is that the computer doesn't interpret "00" as the year 2000 but rather 1900, and miscalculates all computations accordingly," explains Gary Fisher, a computer scientist with National Institute of Standards and Technology, a division of the U.S. Commerce Department's Technology Administration. Numerous inaccuracies will occur when a computation goes beyond the year 2000, which include causing or impeding the occurrence of date-triggered events at improper times and rendering incorrect date computations.

Accounting, benefits, forecasting and other date-sensitive applications will potentially malfunction when noncompliant systems try to perform operations that require computations involving 2000 and beyond. Most analysts agree that companies using legacy systems or custom-built applications are most at risk. According to the Gartner Group, a Stamford, Connecticut-based market research firm, these programs are likely to involve mission critical information and procedures, making it even more difficult to identify the scope of the problem.

PC users can try a simple test that will tell them if their system is year 2000 compliant. Fisher recommends setting your computer's date clock to 11:59 p.m. 12/31/99 to see if it will display the correct year, 1/1/2000. If not, the problem can be corrected by having the computer's BIOS modified to reflect the proper date. Most commercial consumer applications written in the last six or seven years are likely to be year 2000 compliant. Large organizations with legacy systems and custom applications will have to bring in a consultant to determine if their systems are 2000 compliant, and if not, how extensive the problem is.

The total global cost to resolve the problem is estimated to be as high as $600 billion. For single business enterprises, the cost is about $1 per line of code that was used to create your applications. It's necessary to check all source codes because there's no way of telling which lines contain, or are affected by, an insufficient date field. While the problem is expensive to correct, it will become more costly if it's not taken care of before 12/31/1999.

"Business owners and decision makers need to realize that this is a business problem with a technical solution, not a technical problem," says Debra Goodman of ANSTEC, a computer consulting concern in Fairfax, Virginia, that helps companies become year 2000 compliant. "The value-add in this case is to stay in business." Many companies will not be able to conduct business as usual if the problem is not corrected. And time is running out. The issue must be addressed long before 1/1/2000 so that systems can be tested for performance. Goodman explains that year 2000 compliant applications should be able to fully manage and manipulate data spanning both centuries without triggering any Improper events or number assessments.

The problem is not limited to PCs and mainframes. Microprocessors and programs like those used in PBX phone systems are potentially at risk. According to Goodman, some car makers are worried that their vehicles may experience problems ranging from a malfunctioning interior light to not working at all. There are a wide range of modern conveniences, including many elevators, that must be updated in order to work correctly.

In his book, Solving the Year 2000 Problem, Jim Keogh explains the five-step process that businesses must go through to become year 2000 compliant: (1) inventory: having consultants search throughout the firm for mission critical hardware and software; (2) assessment: examining each piece of inventory to find out how the year 2000 problem will affect it; (3) planning and repair: determining how, when and which systems will be upgraded, and in what order; (4) testing: uncovering any hidden glitches that may have been overlooked; (5) implementation: completing and installing the upgrade--your firm's systems are now year 2000 compliant.

The Gartner group estimates that by the turn of the century, 50% of businesses will not be compliant, causing problems for them and the companies they do business with. "Companies must also be concerned with their business partners," warns Fisher, "because their noncompliant systems and information can cause problems in companies that are year 2000 compliant."

For more information on year 2000 compliance, point your Web browser to or check out the federal government's year 2000 Web site at

Additional information can also be found in Solving The Year 2000 Problem (AP Professional, $27.95) or by calling 800-3131-AAP.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
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Author:Muhammad, Tariq K.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:May 1, 1997
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