Tangled Webs

    It's Not a Computer Problem - Part 2
Issue 4.11
Aug 11, 1999

Last month we discussed the importance of viewing the Y2K as a risk-management problem rather than as a computer problem. Addressed in this way, Y2K-readiness becomes very manageable. This month, we'll cover the basic steps small and mid-sized businesses need to take in order to get ready for the new millennium. Always keep in mind that your goal should not necessarily be to ensure that that your company is Y2K-compliant, but to minimize the amount of money the Y2K will cost your organization.

The process described in this article is embodied in Vanguard's free Y2K-COPE software package. Y2K-COPE can greatly assist in locating potential Y2K-related problems and developing contingency plans for them. Y2K-COPE can be downloaded from Vanguard's website at http://www.vanguardjp.com/y2k.

Understand Compliance

There is still some debate over the exact definition of "Y2K-compliant. However, your goal is not to make your enterprise Y2K-compliant, but to make it Y2K-ready. You do not need to ensure that a system is Y2K-compliant, only that it will perform the job you require of it and to develop contingency plans in case it fails.

For hardware and software products almost all the information you need can be found at the vendor's websites.You will find that most systems are either rated fully compliant or can be upgraded to fully compliant versions with little trouble. There will be cases, however, there will be no fully compliant version available, and the software will be rated as "compliant with issues."

Most vendors provide detailed information about these defects at their websites, and most such bugs are minor. A quick review of the information will give you a picture of how specific bugs may affect your company.

Understand Dependence

Evaluating software and hardware is by far the simplest part of assessing Y2K-readiness. An important but often overlooked component is the dependency chain. This applies to computer systems -- a Y2K-compliant application requires a Y2K-compliant OS, which requires Y2K compliant hardware; to business processes -- a Y2K-compliant fulfillment system will be useless if the PBX fails; and to your business as a whole -- if your suppliers and outsourcers cannot function properly there is a good chance that you will not be able to either.

At first, the scope of the dependency chain seems overwhelming, but evaluating it is really just a matter of getting organized, and software like Y2K-COPE can be a God-send when mapping out your dependency chain, determining how the failure of one link will effect other systems and in developing contingency plans for such possibilities. And remember, you don't have to determine if other companies are Y2K-compliant, only that they will be able to fulfill their obligations to you and to develop contingency plans in case they do not.

Stay Up-To-Date

Of all the steps involved in Y2K-readiness, keeping compliance information up-to-date is most often overlooked. There is a strong tendency to believe that once you have evaluated your systems, mapped out your dependency chain and developed your contingency plans the job is done. It's not. The compliance status of software changes, and often changes frequently. Software rated as compliant goes back into testing and reemerges as compliant with "issues". Likewise, new defects are discovered in software already so rated. It is essential that you revisit vendor's websites to learn about these new "issues" and determine how they will affect you and your company.

Closing Thoughts

Those who have read my other articles on the subject or have attended my Y2K lectures are aware that I don't see the world ending on Jan 1, 2000, and that I take very little stock in the prolific purveyors of doom. In fact, everything we have seen so far has been very reassuring.

Most computer systems have been processing dates in the next millennium for some time now. Banks have no trouble writing 30-year mortgages, and many companies are already operating in FY2000. We have not seen wide-spread computer failures. Even in terms of software rectification, the picture is far from bleak. Y2K-rectification programs are very similar in scope to those that were required by the introduction of the Euro. Again, there were no significant failures.

It's easy to understand why the millennium is attracting so much attention in the computer field, but a bit harder to understand the social and cultural importance people are attaching to it. After all, in a physical sense, the millennium does not even exist. We invented it. The year 2000 is strictly a figment of mankind's imagination. The sun will rise and set just as it has for millions of millennia already. The only significance the day will have is that which we give it. Of course, most people don't see it that way, and that's a good thing.

For every purveyor of millennial doom, there are ten who see the beginning of a new era. People are seeing the coming millennium as a time of reconciliation and chance to make long-overdue changes. And since the Y2K is ultimately and entirely our creation, it seems certain that this is what it will become.

Decades from now, the phrase "The Y2K Problem" will have an odd and perhaps somewhat quaint ring to it. By that time, the Y2K will not be remembered as a time of short-term computer failures, but as a time of positive change and of new beginnings. I for one am looking forward to it wholeheartedly.

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© Copyright 1999, Tim Romero, t3@vanguardjp.com
This article fist appeared in the July 1999 edition of Computing Japan.
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