For a problem that didn't exactly sneak up on us, the year 2000 "glitch" is affecting all our lives. I already see it changing the way we think about the future of computing in our business environments.
The year 2000 issue is forcing many companies to constrain IT budgets and stall infrastructure improvements while employees check and double-check that corporate environments will be safe for computing in the next century.
This is an elusive challenge because unlike a true computer bug, the year 2000 problem doesn't show itself easily. This "bug" can be a manifestation of many problems in underlying sub-components.
Of great danger to IT organisations within large corporations is that too often the year 2000 problem is dismissed as a mainframe problem. One where some silly programmer chose to ignore the "19" on the start of year dates because the code wouldn't make it into the next decade, let alone the next century.
Over the last few years, many companies chose to avoid the problem by upgrading their core applications. The recent flurry of spending on Unix- and PC-based enterprise resource planning applications is a good example of how companies tried to avoid old code by just replacing it with newer code.
This wasn't a terrible work-around plan, but it wasn't the best one, either.
Even these "smart ones" are quickly realising that they aren't home free on this year 2000 issue because the combination of a new system and a new application may not be as safe as they assumed it would be.
Let's be clear here. There are actually five strata to this problem and the bug can occur in or between any of them.
For PCs, the glitch can occur in the hardware, operating system, application, custom code, and data integration subcomponents. Although the hardware level is easily checked, each building layer gets more complex to confirm year 2000 compliance.
For those who feel that they are safe because they are running Windows, I can only say, "Don't!"
Any company that has tried to get Microsoft to sign off on a legal Y2K Compliance Agreement knows how elusive the vendor can be on this topic.
Better yet, if you haven't visited Microsoft's year 2000 site yet, I urge you to visit http://www.microsoft.com/y2k and read the issues.
In short, Microsoft is recommending that you upgrade your present operating system from whatever you currently have installed to Windows 98 or NT 4.x - as well as all the latest patches. If they could get NT 5.0, now Windows 2000, out before the end of next year, I am sure that they would recommend upgrading to Windows 2000 (better known as Windows '00 or Windows oh-oh) as their solution.
All the details
For Microsoft product users, this year 2000 site gives you all the details. Such as, don't feel too comfortable with Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office, or Visual Basic unless you have all the latest patches.
Oh, and Office's patch just came out again this month.
Many corporations that have spent the last 18 to 24 months upgrading from Win 3.11 to Windows 95 and Office 97 now need to determine how to roll out all the needed patches before January 1, 2000.
Because the problem grows even more elusive with custom-developed applications and data interchange facilities, many corporations are revisiting their year 2000 test scripts to ensure that their PC environments are fully compliant.
But updating desktops and DLLs are significantly more complex than updating a mainframe module.
And what are the vendors going to do while corporate America is tweaking its PC environments? Sell to small businesses! Small businesses aren't as involved in this necessary infrastructure upgrade. They would just as soon buy the latest and greatest version to totally avoid this issue. And, they are going to buy these versions in 1999 so vendors are focusing their marketing to sell to them.
Although I don't believe the financial markets or airlines are going to crash in the next century, it will take more IT resources to get us there than many think.
Have you done a year 2000 audit on your PC environment?
Do you have Y2K Compliance Agreements from your key PC vendors?