What is the Year 2000 Problem? When computer systems were built in the 1960s and 1970s, computer hardware was expensive. To reduce costs, programmers looked for ways to reduce data storage requirements. It was common for dates to be stored in databases as 6 digit fields rather than as 8 digits.
Why is this a Problem Now? The systems built during this period were not very user friendly, but were the ones most critical to the business operations. When personal computers became popular in the 1980s, new graphical front ends were added to the systems however the underlying databases and computer programs were often retained. Not only did these old systems not disappear, they often grew in size, becoming more complicated and difficult to maintain. Because the legacy systems of the 60s and 70s were not designed to run in multiple centuries, most will either produce incorrect information or simply fail at the end of this century. It may not sound like much effort to fix these monsters but in fact, it involves a great deal of time and expense.
Why this Music? It is interesting to note that when Don McLean wrote his famous song "American Pie" back in 1971 in which he talks about "the day the music died", computer programmers around the globe were inadvertently writing a virus into their programs which years later would kill the music and much more.
How Bad is theY2K Problem? Many studies have been done to estimate the costs of addressing the Y2K problem. The Gartner Group, a respected information technology researcher, estimates that it will cost as much as $600 billion world-wide. If the problem is not addressed in time, the consequences could be catastrophic. The Y2K problem would not be so serious today had business and government leaders dealt with the situation earlier but many did not. Consequently, a race against the clock is underway. For many organisations, work has not even begun!
Why isn't the Year 2000 Problem being addressed? The biggest problem today is the apparent lack of concern by many businesses and governments to take the Year 2000 problem seriously, in spite of the literature available. Do people not understand the problem? Are business owners aware of the problem but are keeping silent in hope of not spooking their stock? Do our elected leaders not see the potential for economic and social disaster ? It would appear that organisations are hoping for a quick fix, a silver bullet of sorts. Unfortunately, there are no silver bullets. There is just a lot of costly, time consuming work. In addition, the information technology industry is not known for concluding projects on time or on budget even when highly skilled resources are available. In this particular battle, qualified people will be hard to find as the millennium nears.
Is the Problem limited to Old, Mainframe Computer Systems? Anyone writing a computer system with any technology could code a computer program just as the legacy systems were coded in the 1960s or 1970s. Most new development environments and technologies however, encourage or enforce the capturing of 8 digit dates. Consequently most PC based applications built in recent years are Year 2000 compliant. There are exceptions , however. Computer programs can be embedded into hardware components called ~chips . Some computer chips are not Year 2000 compliant. If those chips exist in your VCR or TV set, you'll likely find a work-around solution and survive the crisis. If however, they exist in equipment used by your utility companies or aeroplane navigation equipment, you have much bigger worries.
When Does theY2K Bomb Explode? Contrary to conventional wisdom, Year 2000 problems will occur well before January 1, 2000. Any computer system that uses future dates (e.g. a term deposit maturing in year 2001) could encounter early failures. Hopefully, a few good crises in 1998-99 will ignite a little more interest in dealing with this potentially serious problem. The main event however, is not expected until January 1, 2000.
What Does Y2K Mean to Business People and Investors? If you are an owner of a business, you should make certain that all your database structures and computer programs are Year 2000 compliant. If your mission critical systems are not, you should formulate a plan to fix or replace them immediately. Remember too, that you are not an island. Your existence depends on the survival of your suppliers and consumers. Make certain that their computer systems too, are compliant. You should also formulate contingency plans. If you are an investor, get confirmation in writing that the businesses that you are investing in are well on their way to becoming Year 2000 compliant.
What is Your Responsibility as a Leader? If you are an elected leader, you should develop a solid understanding of the Year 2000 issue and monitor the progress of businesses and governments in achieving Year 2000 compliance. Because the economy is so tightly integrated, the failure of one organisation can impact many others. Should large numbers of businesses fail in year 2000, there will be serious consequences for the global economy. It is your job to keep the banks operating, the utilities running, the aeroplanes flying and the nuclear missiles safely locked in their silos when the clocks strike midnight on January 1, 2000. Promoting awareness of the looming Year 2000 crisis is an important first step in dealing with the crisis.
As an Individual What can You do? As a citizen, it is important to keep well informed on the Y2K problem. This is not always easy to do as good investigative coverage of the Y2K issue by the mainstream media is rare. Bob Bennett, chair of the U.S. Senate Y2K Committee, recently made a speech about why people are so hesitant to talk openly and truthfully about Y2K. He concluded that we are all "flying blind". Hopefully as more individuals and organisations begin to feel the sting of Y2K, more people will speak out on the issue. You might think that the Year 2000 crisis won't impact you or your family, but think again! You probably depend on computers either directly or indirectly for just about everything you do. You need to make sure that the essential services and equipment that you depend on will be available when you need them. Don't hesitate to ask your bank, your employer, your utility companiesand your elected representatives about their Y2K plans and status. Each time the question is asked, the issue becomes more visible. With a little luck, the bomb will fizzle out at the end of next year, rather than blow up in all our faces! In the meantime, enjoy the music while it lasts!
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