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Ready Or Not Y2K

Companies prepare computer systems for the year 2000.

Alfred Dockery,Technical Editor

Ready Or Not: Y2K Companies prepare computer systemsfor the year 2000.January 1, 2000 may be the least anticipated New Years Day in history. The reason for all the dread is that for many years computer programmers have used a six-digit field to represent the date. The day, month and year each get a two- digit number.The computer assumes that each two-digit year has 19 in front of it. For example, the computer sees 98 as 1998 and 99 as 1999. But in the year 2000, many computers will assume that 00 is 1900. This is expected to cause a variety of problems.Y2K has also been called the millennium bug or The Year 2000 Problem. These are all the same thing.However, those bracing themselves for the stroke of midnight December 31, 1999, may be in for a surprise. Y2K-related problems are expected to begin surfacing mid-year. In fact, some are already occurring.Its already an issue, said Sonny Miller, senior vice president, Network Systems International Inc. If youre a textile manufacturer, and youre buying cotton on futures. Then you are looking at a 15-month to 24-month window, youve already got the problem. Y2K ProblemsY2K will cause a variety of problems. These should range from minor glitches involving dates to a complete lock-up of some systems. Since most companies computer systems are unique, it wont be possible to predict exactly what type of errors a particular company will encounter.The results are unpredictable, Miller said. Every system will very likely respond differently. The scary part is that there will be no common fix.There are some errors that seem likely. Some inventory systems will begin shipping the newest rather than the oldest stock. Programs monitoring accounts receivable may send out past due notices for orders they have just received. Some systems may generate nonsensical data. Miller sees this a major problem.The worst thing that can happen is for the computer system not to appear to have a problem, and you take action based on reports or data that is wrong but not obviously wrong, Miller said.
 SolutionsThere are two ways to fix Y2K problems in a computer system. Companies can fix their current software (sometimes called legacy software) by going in and changing how the software handles the date, or they can completely replace their software with new Y2K-compatible software. Depending on the size of your system, the solution can cost in the millions of dollars and hundreds of manhours.Legacy software is an industry term for existing software systems. Generally these systems were written in-house by programmers back when companies had much larger MIS staffs. Each of these systems is unique.A lot of our customers are going to spend tens of millions of dollars with no payback to fix this problem in legacy software, Miller said.Today there are AS/400s running software that came out of the 60s. State-of-the-art hardware running software out of the 1960s. Getting CompliantAlandale Knitting, a commission knitter and a sister company to Alandale Industries, began preparing for Y2K three years ago.We made a conscious decision to tackle this early, said Don Trexler, plant manager, Alandale Knitting. So we could get fully implemented, and get out of the way of the other people who were going to be doing it last minute.The company chose to upgrade to completely new software with Network Systems as their vendor. They gained additional capabilities and features along with Y2K compatibility. This makes it difficult to estimate the exact cost of addressing Y2K. However, Trexler told ATI that the cost was more than anticipated.The new software offered Alandale many improvements. When the company updated its computer system it also added a radio frequency bar code system for real-time inventory control. The plants fork trucks now have terminals mounted on them that allow the operator access to up-to-the-second inventory information. He is able to acquire all of the information he needs, to know what yarn needs to be taken to a knitting machine to keep it running, Trexler said. And he can go ahead and issue those materials without anything going through the office. Its impressive.Ithaca Industries Inc., a producer of private label knitwear, began making its Y2K plans in July of 1996. At the time of this writing, the company had addressed about 75 percent of the items on its plan. Ithaca should be completely Y2K ready in July.Like Alandale Knitting, Ithaca chose to replace computer systems rather than fix the problems in legacy software. They also chose to go with Network Systems. In addition to solving any Y2K problems, the new system also gives them much more flexibility and control.We decided not only to address Y2K but to implement ERP (enterprise resources planning) systems, said Bob Teague, MIS director, Ithaca Industries. We made the decision to move from old legacy mainframe systems to an AS/400 environment. We are totally replacing everything.
 Trading PartnersEven when a company gets its computer systems Y2K compatible, it still has to make sure that its customers and suppliers are ready for Y2K.Ithaca gave ATI a brief description of the process it is using to ensure that its partners are Y2K ready. In March of last year, the company mailed out a survey to approximately 2,000 business partners. Around 700 of these companies responded.In September of last year, Ithaca reviewed the list and identified companies critical to its business that had not responded. More than 100 surveys went out to these critical companies. This list will be reviewed again in March, and Ithaca will develop contingency plans for any companies may not be compliant in time. Getting A Late StartThose companies that are not already far along in their Y2K preparations are in serious jeopardy.First of all, accept it as a fact, Miller said. You cant postpone it. Second, figure out what you really must have in your existing systems to continue to stay in business. Those are the things that you are going to want to go after first. Then get some help.Realize that the resources that can help you have already been contracted somewhere else. If they havent, they will be tomorrow or the next day. The field is narrowing.Ithacas Teague agrees that latecomers should concentrate their efforts and get help immediately.If they are just now starting, they need to make it top priority, said Teague. Its a serious problem. I think theyll find that there is a lot more work out there to do than they realize. And they are probably going to need outside help.Ithaca has a formal business recovery plan with IBM including a hot site in Boulder, Colo. If something happens to the companys data center, off-side tape backups would be used to restore data to this hot site, which would then be dialed up and used as a substitute. Ithaca tests the hot site once a year by restoring some part of its data like payroll or accounts receivable. This years test will be totally dedicated to Y2K.Teagues advises companies to test, test, test until the end of 1999. Y2K BackgroundThe reason that programmers used a two-digit field for the date in the first place was to conserve memory. In early computer systems memory was at a premium. Computer memory at that time was measured in kilobytes.It was not until the late 80s that computer memory would be measured in megabytes. Using less memory meant saving money quite a bit of money.Miller remembers programming an IBM System 360 with 16K of memory, at the time he was working for Fieldcrest. He estimates that adding an additional 16K of memory would have cost $50,000.It ran four plants, said Miller. It took 6,000 orders a week, and managed from $30 million to $40 million worth of inventory. There are watches today that have more memory.Later in the 70s and 80s, using a two-digit year simply became a habit. It was not until the late 80s that programmers even began to think about preparing for 2000, according to Miller.  Editors note: This is the first installment in a year-long series on Y2K. If there are specific aspects of Y2K that you would like to see examined or if you would like to comment on your companys preparations for Y2K, the authors e-mail address is adockery@mindspring.com.

February 1999