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Plan now to pick up the Y2K pieces
By Jerrold M. Grochow, PC Week Online, October 5, 1998

There are fewer than 470 days until Jan. 1, 2000, and systems professionals are working double overtime to meet management demands to resolve Y2K problems before they turn into business problems or, potentially, societal disasters. Will they succeed? Yes and no.

Only a few years ago, I was one of many in our profession who wondered what all the fuss was about. I thought that because my colleagues and I had been programming for the century rollover since the early '80s, there really wasn't much to worry about. Just replace those few systems hanging around from the '70s, and we would be all set. How wrong I was. The more I studied the problem, the more concerned I became. And when I saw programs written in the '90s (not by my staff!) that would not work for the year 2000, I knew we were in for a lot more trouble than I had imagined.

Now don't get me wrong: I'm not a member of the "worldwide recession" camp. But I am in the much larger group that believes we will experience Y2K-related failures, that some will be more than minor annoyances, and that we need to develop contingency plans for these occurrences if we are to get through this period relatively unscathed.

According to IT consultant and computer science educator Howard Rubin, many of you are already into this stage of Y2K activity. In a June sampling of Fortune 500 companies, he found that 72 percent claimed to be doing Y2K contingency plans--up from just 3 percent in a survey taken three months earlier. This is no doubt related to another survey that found that 84 percent of respondents said they weren't meeting all their milestones on Y2K projects. Not too surprising when you consider the size of most Y2K projects: Some, and possibly many, of those projects just won't be completed on time--I absolutely guarantee it. If you need proof, just ask yourself, What percentage of other system development projects over the past several years has come in on time? I'll wager a large sum that the number is far less than 100 percent.

What constitutes a good contingency plan? For some good templates, you might look at the Web site for the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion (www.y2k.gov; search on "contingency plan"). The first thing to consider is what your objectives are in making the plan: staying in business, bringing up failed systems, minimizing customer complaints and so forth. Once you decide that, you can begin to figure out what your procedures are going to be when you are operating under a "contingency." But that isn't enough: You have to determine who is going to be in charge and who is going to perform those procedures, when and under what conditions they should begin operating under the plan, and when it's OK to go back to normal operation.

Your contingency plan needs to be part of a broader Y2K risk management plan. According to the bankers making up the Global 2000 Co-ordinating Group (www.global2k.com), your plan should address the "four P's"--planning, prevention, preparation and performance. It's a sound approach as we get closer to triggeringY2K problems.

This is my third annual Y2K column, and I figure I'll be writing about it for four more years before the issue is behind us. Jerrold M. Grochow is CTO at American Management Systems, an international consulting and systems development company. He can be reached at jerry_grochow@amsinc.com.

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