Is the Year 2000 bug a problem for your firm? If it is, what is your firm doing about it?
Thirty years ago when computers were in their infancy, their memory was very limited. To conserve and maximize the use of their available memory, programmers used only two digits to represent years. Instead of "1960,'' they used "60.'' This seemed reasonable, since at the time computer systems were not integrated into almost every daily business and personal transaction. Most general correspondence also used the format "1/1/60'' to represent January 1, 1960.
Past vs. present. Consider how primitive the technology was back then. In the early 1960s, for example, we developed an advanced, state-of-the-art anti-submarine torpedo that used telephone-type stepper switches for its command-and-control system. Today, we would use integrated computer chips.
In those early days, immediate priorities overshadowed any other concerns. No one worried whether the software would misinterpret the abbreviation "00''in the year 2000 as the year 1900. Ironically, one reason the Y2K bug has survived is the concept of "backward compatibility," which was implemented to assure that clients would not have to buy new software each time they purchased a new hardware model.
Theoretically, fixing the Y2K problem is simple. Examine every line of computer code, locate any instructions involving dates, and rewrite them to accept 2000 as a year designation, then test the system to assure that it performs properly and creates no adverse side effects. As simple as it sounds, this solution will require serious effort for it to be achieved on time.
We are months away from what could be a very critical time. Just after midnight, December 31, 1999, thousands of computers could interpret the year 2000 as the year 1900 and make a real mess of daily and corporate life, unless the Y2K bugs have been identified and eliminated.
Firms must ensure that they update all of their internal systems, including payroll, accounting, manufacturing, engineering, distribution, purchasing, and sales tracking. However, the Y2K problem could also be embedded in chips in various controllers, automated teller machines, process-control equipment, CAD-CAM, power grids, and systems used by suppliers, government, banking, insurance, and customers. One weak link in an entire chain could cause a whole system to fail.
A further complication. In addition, many of our trading partners, such as the European unions and Japan, are not making it a priority to solve this problem. Right now, many of them have significant other problems requiring their attention.
The Y2K may or may not create problems for every firm, but can anyone afford to wait until January 1, 2000 to find out? If there are problems, precious little time is available to identify and fix them, including system verification testing. Unlike most projects, the launch date cannot be slipped even one second.
It is difficult to overstate the chaos that will occur if a Y2K problem is not fixed. For you and your firm, it would be beneficial to determine now whether you have a Y2K problem than to be taken by surprise. With so much at stake, you should be prepared. †
† Please fax or mail your firm's Y2K problem and what your firm is doing about it.
Ask the Manager
Q:† I'd like to learn more about the Year 2000 bug. Where can I get more information about the Y2K problem?
A: For starters, I would try to search the Internet. Try logging onto the Internet and searching on the term, 'Y2K.' You'll find many suggestions. Here are couple of sites: www.IT2000.com , a national bulletin board relating to the problem; www.y2k.com , a Dow Jones business directory site; or www.year2000.com , which offers many articles. All can give you up-to-date information, but as always, it might be best to verify any and all information you read over the 'net.
Q: I understand that The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge lists and discusses some interesting laws. Could you list them for us?
A: In his book, Peter Senge devoted approximately one page to each "law." I will simply mention each one:
Today's problems come from yesterday's 'solutions.'