Interview on May 10 with Capers Jones - a MUST READ : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Q&A with Capers Jones by Scott Johnson 5/10/99 Y2KToday

Capers Jones is the founder of Software Productivity Research, Inc., and a leading expert on the economic impact of the Y2K problem, as well as a leading author and speaker on software productivity and measurement. He wrote an article in the December 1998 issue of Scientific American on the methodology of quantifying software. Jones was formerly a senior researcher at IBM's Santa Teresa software laboratory and Assistant Director of Applied Technology at the ITT Programming Technology Center.

Q. I'd like to get your take on some of the Y2K reports that have been coming from the Federal government, particularly the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion and the Senate Special Committee. Basically, where are we?

A. Well, I'm in daily, or at least weekly, contact with John Koskinen, the United Nations, and other governments and companies. My take is that there is a false sense of security, and that the situation is not quite as rosy as we would like to have it, primarily because of some factors that are obscure and that not many people understand. As of this year, 1999, about a third of the problems that are occurring are being found in software that nominally was repaired, tested, and put back into service. But we are visibly less than 100 percent efficient in finding date problems and testing them.

Another issue is that we are injecting new problems -- not necessarily date problems -- but problems in the software applications as we fix them. For the last fifty years, this average has been that about 7 percent of all software updates that accidentally inserted a new error. The Year 2000 repairs certainly seem to be hitting at least seven percent, maybe higher. Some of these fresh bugs are troublesome in their own right.

So, given the fact that we are missing dates and injecting new problems, I think it is very unlikely that we will end up with all of the dangerous problems fixed at the end of the century.We'll end up with many of them fixed, probably most, but certainly not all.

Q. You have said that at least 15 percent of all software applications will not be fixed in time. How did you arrive at this figure?

A. We've been around since 1985 collecting data from hundreds of companies, and this [15 percent figure] is a derivative from our large-scale benchmark studies.

Q. And are you basing your estimates strictly on Year 2000 repairs, or is it a look at a large range of software upgrades and code fixes?

A. The industry average for finding and fixing any kind of bug is find and fix 85 percent and leave 15 percent behind. And even the best in class isn't much over 95 percent.

Q. What is your take on the Federal government? It seems that the progress they've made defies most software metrics that I've seen, in terms of projects of a comparable size or scale. And most of the reported progress seems to be based on self-reported information. Do you think there's some disingenuous reporting going on?

A. I think so, and I'll give you a kind of interesting view of the situation. Our company and others such as Standish Group have discovered over the years that about fifty percent of large software projects either run late or are cancelled. We know that, and you probably know it, too. But if you looked at the reported status of these projects ninety days before the nominal delivery date, you would reach the impression that none of them were going to run late, because they were all supposed to be under control and moving right along... but in fact, half of them didn't make it.

We are still much further out than ninety days before the Year 2000. We are at the point where almost everybody says everything is under control, but that does not mean that everything is under control.

Q. Without naming names, do you know of any major red lights in any of the major industries, especially some of the "iron triangle" industries, that we should be concerned about?

A. Jon Arnold, who publishes a weekly status report on the electric utility industry, is pretty candid and easy to get responses from. John Koskinen is pretty open, and given the fact of his position, I think he's a pretty candid guy and tries to be as open as he possibly can be. What we're missing is, we don't have someone like a Jon Arnold for some of the critical industries like health care, water companies, or airlines. So I'm very troubled by the industries that don't have any kind of consolidated look at their Y2K status.

I'm troubled by natural gas, trucking, shipping... I'm troubled by municipal governments, because all of them are pretty much lagging.

Q. We've been hearing, with regard to embedded chips, that concerns about the seriousness of the problem have been revised somewhat. We had been hearing estimates that five percent of chips would have critical failures, but Senator Bennett said the other night at the Washington DC Y2K group meeting that it's down now to about two-tenths of one percent. How concerned do you think we should be?

A. Well, I'm inclined to think that the number of chips that need to be replaced is not as big as we first thought. But replacing them remains one of the most difficult parts of the Year 2000 problem, because you can't get in and fix them; you have to take them out and replace them. And if the vendor's gone out of business, or it's...500 feet off the ocean in an offshore oil rig, getting to the chip and replacing it is not an easy trick.

Q. On the international front, have you been working a lot with companies and agencies internationally, and could you give me a sense of your expectations there?

A. Two weeks ago I did a conference call to Italy -- actually, a major televised conference event -- and afterwards I spoke to a lot of conference organizers. A lot of government folks were there. And they said that Italy was just getting started. They've been devoting too many resources to the Year 2000 [Jubilee] and everybody seemed to be far also looks like the Pacific Rim is not going to be in very good shape, nor are South America or Africa.

Western Europe, which should be in very good shape, devoted too many resources to the Euro, and as a result the European Monetary Union is probably not in good shape either. As far as eastern Europe goes -- Russia, the Ukraine, and so forth -- it's difficult to find out, but I would suspect that they don't have a clue.

Q. You mentioned the Euro. There were a lot of concerns that there would be a lot of "red flag"-type problems with the introduction of the Euro...

A. Yes, and there are. They are now starting to show up. Some of them are big problems. Currency conversion errors to billions of dollars, funds transfers to the wrong bank... It is false to say that the Euro got introduced without any grief or problems; there were a lot of problems. Some of them were offset, though, because the books had to close after the first quarter, before the errors showed up.

Q. Would you say that might be indicative of a similar experience we might have with Y2K, that people might get lulled into a sense of complacency because problems don't show up immediately at the fiscal year pivot dates or on January 1st?

A. Yes, certainly with financial applications. We may see problems at the close of the first quarter or at the close of the first month's books, but not on January 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th, not until the first sets of books are closed.

Q. What sense do you have of what companies, agencies and organizations can do to recover after the end of the year, once the problems have set in? What are some some strategies to deal with problems that have already occurred?

A. They need to do two things. Let me give you an example. Let's say your company does not pay your salary in the first week of January, because of a Year 2000 problem in their payroll system. They've got to do two things. They've got to fix the payroll system, but that doesn't give you your money. So they've got to write a check for you manually and give it to to you, so you can pay your bills.

So a company obviously has to fix the software, usually on a 24-hour-a-day emergency basis, but they also need manual backups for the software functions that are out of service. That's for things like payrolls and tax returns and that stuff; someone's got to get in there and do them by hand. Same thing with retail sales; you can't just shut down your store because your point-of-sale systems are down. You've got to actually sell stuff and handle it with cash registers.

Q. What could the federal government do that they're not already doing that, in your opinion, would improve their leadership on the issue? And do you have examples of state governments that, in your point of view, are taking the right approach?

A. Well, the federal government is doing a reasonable job now. They just waited a couple of years later than they should have to get started. Also, Bill Clinton and Al Gore were a little bit passive on it. Of course, because of the impeachment, Clinton had other things on his mind. I'll tell you one thing that I find troublesome: for the last couple of years, Ken Starr's budget has been roughly ten times bigger than John Koskinen's budget. I think the government has grossly misspent on the independent counsel stuff and grossly underspent on the Year 2000 work.

Q. The President has spoken publicly, if I'm not mistaken, three times on the Y2K issue...

A. Blair, by contrast, has spoken probably, eight or nine times in the same period...

Q. Right. So, it seems that, even notwithstanding the impeachment issue, that we have been lacking in public leadership from the bully pulpit. Is there some reason for that, perhaps, that we're not grasping?

A. Well, what I've been told by people who know him is that Al Gore was afraid of it, because he figured that it would wipe out his election [chances] in 2000. But I think he miscalculated. He was the poster boy for the internet and high technology. He should have taken the lead in trying to solve it. By backing away and not saying anything about it -- and when he did, saying things that were mamby-pamby -- I think he has lost the confidence of the high-tech community that should have been his main supporters. So I blame Gore, partly because he had the reputation for being the high-technology guru, whereas Clinton didn't. I blame Gore more than Clinton for not being a leader in this situation.

On the state and municipal level, I've worked with the state of Massachusetts, and they've done a credible job of trying to get started. Florida seems to be okay. The city of Los Angeles is spending a lot of money on Y2K work, and they've done some impressive stuff there. The bigger government entities are pretty active and energetic. You get down to a town the size of Lowell, Massachusetts, or Marblehead, or the smaller communities... I'm very concerned about them.

Q. Are you aware of Governor Ventura's efforts in Minnesota to utilize the Boy Scouts to help raise awareness of the problem?

A. No, I wasn't aware specifically of Ventura. But in every state, there have been a ton of local community action volunteer groups that, in some ways, are being more effective than the city and state governments themselves. So one of the neat things about the Year 2000 is that we're seeing a whole burst of volunteer organizations that are stepping up to the problem. I'm glad to hear that Governor Ventura might want the Boy Scouts involved, I think that might be appropriate. Groups like the Rotary Club and the Kiwanis saying, what might they be able to do to help?

230 days remain. About 5500 hours. Get ready. Prepare. Someting's going to happen....


-- Dennis (, May 15, 1999


Also see this thread:

"Capers Jones interview"

-- Kevin (, May 15, 1999.

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