Y2K, ISO 9000 Quality Certification and Stockmarket Crash

greenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

I worked as a computer programmer on mainframe computers in several large financial institutions for about 5 years. I experienced the initial "so we need to fix a few dates" reaction back in 1992 when someone first told me of the Year 2000 Problem. I susbsequently suffered the consequences of being around while 3 successive companies I worked for introduced "quality" management systems so they could be certified under ISO 9000 or whatever the number is. I understood the aim alright. But procedures tightened up, we were dealing with "money" (banking systems) and it became extremely difficult to implement any kind of change. A change required running around after at least 6 signatures, 3 photocopies of each form for distribution to different folders, reviews, meetings, testing, entry in the Job Scheduling System, JCL, Security Access, Version Numbers etc. You get the picture. A single change was a nightmare and I left the mainframe world and retrieved my sanity by programming PCs where one tends to be the master of one's domain. Has anyone thought about scrapping all Quality Management Systems for the next year so that the mainframe cowboys can return and get some work done. Let's say you (trusted employee) are given back most access to production systems. For Y2K it is essential that most procedure is scrapped. It is such a huge problem logistically that the procedural "quality" overhead almost cripples any attempts to get through the enormous amount of work at any kind of pace.

So, we have a problem? An inconceivably large problem to fix. It will not be fixed. I know that. I don't know how bad it will be. I know that if 4 or 5 programs fail that night, the other 2000 jobs that did not fail will be held up and will not be processed. The whole mainframe overnight job system is built on dependencies. Job B may only run if Job A completes successfully. Job Z only runs if Job F,R and S are successful. If you try override these dependencies, the mess will become very big indeed. Computers are very fast. They can make a mess very fast if you let them. They cannot undo that mess until you tell them how. That is very slow.

Recently, I posted a similar article to this one in which I named a company that I considered to have a massive problem. Later I was contacted by the bulletin board and was warned not to post any such articles and threatened with legal action. The company in question denied any problems. This denial is happening continuously because there is no alternative. What company will say "We have a big Y2K problem and we don't think we will be compliant. We suggest that you withdraw your funds." The result is that every single company in the world has "no problems", "a contingency plan", "cannot depend on their suppliers but internal systems are ready".

This is going nowhere - but here are some of my crazy thoughts:

* The stockmarket WILL go down a long way before the end of the year. * McDonalds are an extremely efficient food distributor and deal very well in a cash economy. If necessary, they will be the vehicle for government funded food provision. * Gold will go up in value. Asians love gold and will be putting money into it after the recent turmoil. * Cash will maintain its value. * Financial markets will have big problems. This will be the worst aspect of the entire Y2K. Even cities without power will cope. But the bank that fails to do its end of day, end of week (December 31 is a Friday), end of month, end of quarter and end of year processsing will be in trouble and may not even survive. * Borrow as much money as you can. If you are lucky you will never have to pay it back. * Do not keep money in the bank if you have a secure place to put it. Don't tell ANYONE that you have done this or where it is. * Interest rates, inflation and deflation will NOT be massive problems. * Don't go flying at midnight. You will most likely have no problems but why take the chance. * Listen to the news coming out of Australia and Japan. We will be leading you guys into the mess. If you hear that we have some problems down under you will have a few hours to panic and get your money out of the bank. * Don't hold shares. Short them if you are confident that the stockmarket will still be active so that you can buy them back and clear out your position.

And remember, that while Europe and America are shivering in the cold dark winter morning, I will be enjoying the surf at Bondi.

Good luck, Ben - Sydney

-- Ben Herron (ben@jungle.com.au), March 28, 1999


Interesting views Ben - Regards -
Mr. K

-- Mr. Kennedy (here@night.now), March 28, 1999.

I too have experienced "Quality ASSuranace" with a State Agency. The party line is to have a quality process and a quality product but meet the schedule at all costs. Since it is impossible to do both, the schedule is met and quality suffers. An action plan is implemented and more levels of supervision are added in an attempt to address the problem. The agency even went so far as to implement the 14 steps developed by Edward Demming. The hilarious part was that in the effort to meet production dates, agency policy was forcing the employees to ignore 9 of the 14 steps required. The same problems would be found year after year, a new action plan would be implemented and no one recognized that the problem was not being fixed. The strategy was do it quick and do it over which took longer than allowing adequate time to do it right the first time. Another problem was intermediate target dates. This required a big rush to meet the initial date then there was a 12 to 18 month delay before the final steps when an additional 3 months at the front end would have allowed to work to be done correctly and six months could be subtracted from the final date with a better product. The computer system is to be upgraded and no one discusses what will happen when the whole system crashes next January. There are no acknowledged contingency plans about how to pay contractors, employees, what happens if fuel is not available or is substantially more expensive, how the agency will function without electric power etc. The headquarters office is located in a city where the Public Service Commission said that the local power provider is 25 per cent complete with remediation with a completion date of 7 1 99. No way. If it took 2 years to do 25 per cent, they are going to do the difficult 75 per cent in 3 months? If you try to explain these issues, their eyes glaze over and they say there are no problems. It is no wonder that the computer professionals get discouraged when the blind are leading the whole operation in the local, State and Federal Governments. I see that Clintons polls jumped another 10 per cent again after the recent attacks. He will soon be back up to 90 per cent. At least one of the real expensive stealt bombers was not shot down. Did anyone stop to think that if the enemy shoots up enough shells, the odds are that some will make a hit whether or not it is a stealth plan. It only took 3 days to prove this. The A 10 warthogs should be adequate for this type of mission. Its time to declare victory and call the troops home.

-- Tom (manager@notstupid.com), March 28, 1999.

In just about any project, and software in particular, whether new code or maintenance, the sum total of all effort may be boiled down to three main constraints:

Make it good - a quality product that works
Do it fast - meet the deadline or sooner
Keep it cheap - within or under budget

Realistically, you may pick any two, at most.

Now, many situations often require optimization of but one of these three constraints. Guess under which of the three constraints the bulk of Y2k modifications will fall? That's right, "fast", due to an all but immovable deadline and notoriously late start dates.

Considering reports of ever escalating Y2k budgets, it is plain that the optimization for "cheap" has been pretty much abandoned. I leave it to the reader to surmise the effect that the necessity of near-total concentration on "fast" will have upon the remaining constraint of "good".

-- Nathan (nospam@all.com), March 28, 1999.

Gary North said on his site (www.garynorth.com) that us programmers are at fault. Not the pointy-haired (horn-haired) managers per Dilbert cartoons. That we should have refused to accept a job or resign if management, in our opinion, had its head up its collective ass and wouldn't let us do the job right. That by acquiessing to using two digits that the fault is ours. That we can't get ourselves off by saying "ve vere chust followink orders!".

I got a little incensed at that, because I have experienced a lot of point-haired managers. My thought was, why should I have starved or been asking "do you want fries with that" (the only other job I'm qualified for) while those management schmucks skate on by?

Neglecting the reality that there is always someone willing to do a particular job, whatever it is, maybe Gary is right. If no programmer ever had worked, would work, continue to work, for a bunch of schmucks, this world would be an entirely differenct place. Either with entirely different types of computers, or one with just the half-dozen (whatever) mainframes that IBM thought back then would be all that would be required.

Maybe a world with hardly any computers might not have been a bad idea. "Big Brother" would still be a character in a novel ("1984" by George Orwell) instead of a pervasive reality.

-- vbProg (vbProg@MicrosoftAndIntelSuck.com), March 29, 1999.

So the years have ticked by and boy was I wrong about Y2K. Nothing much failed at all. The whole IT sector went into a massive slump in 2000 after the spending frenzy leading up to Y2K. Apart from that, it was business as usual. Nostradamus I am not.

-- Ben Herron (ben@impactlogic.com), August 27, 2004.

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