Y2k managers - Optimistic but clawing to survive

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



Optimistic, but clawing to survive

Y2K managers are upbeat about the big picture, but many are on a "death march" to get loose ends of projects tied up

Saturday, October 23, 1999

By Steve Woodward of The Oregonian staff

Welcome to the Y2K sausage factory.

While the man on the street now envisions the Year 2000 computer problem coasting resolutely to a trouble-free New Year's Day, the geeks in the Y2K trenches are sweating out a reality that is a lot messier.

"My project is already looking like a death march," confided the Y2K project manager at a mid-size Portland company. "The people making the decisions do not see how much work still needs to be done."

The techies aren't predicting the collapse of civilization. In fact, according to recent surveys, most are optimistic. But in the waning weeks of 1999, many are fretting as deadlines slip, vendors break promises, contingency plans remain unwritten, shrink-wrapped upgrades gather dust, and date problems continue to sprout in software that previously had been certified as "Y2K-compliant."

And more than one consultant notes they still get inquiries from companies that haven't yet started their Y2K work.

"Many people wrongly believe that all Y2K problems have been solved and there is little need for additional action or contingency planning," Norman L. Dean, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Y2K and Society, wrote last month in a briefing paper, "100 Days and Counting: Too Many Unknowns, Too Little Verified Information and Too Many Last-Minute Fixes."

Paradoxically, some surveys show that most information technology managers express similar optimism -- at the same time other surveys show they plan to document financial records, stockpile at least $500 in cash and avoid flying on commercial airplanes during the date rollover.

Abbie Lundberg, editor of CIO magazine, attributes the contradiction to managers' confidence in their own work and doubts about the work of others.

For many organizations, the grueling final stretch seems less a death march than a chaotic Keystone Cops chase scene, as they wobble, leap, crawl -- and yes, sometimes even coast -- toward the Dec. 31 milestone.

"Way too many things are still being tested," said consultant Tobie Finzel of Portland-based Millennium Resources LLC. "Now schedules run into the middle of November."

Or even well into 2000. One of Finzel's clients wants to upgrade a noncompliant microfilming system but is still trying to select a vendor to do the job.

"One of the vendor finalists admitted they were marketing vaporware that wouldn't be done until next year," she said.

Although microfilming is not crucial to the core business, the organization could run into liability woes if it can't microfilm documents for several months.

One local health clinic is watching the clock tick toward its Dec. 1 project deadline as it waits for a crucial software update to arrive. Neither the program nor the Windows 3.11 operating system on which it runs can process dates in 2000.

"They know for a fact that the program is not Y2K-compliant," said Frank Monfared, president of Portland-based Business Solutions Group Corp., a computer consulting firm. "Meanwhile, the small company that wrote it has been promising updates for the past two years."

Struggles at the top Small vendors aren't the only ones behind on Y2K upgrades. Laggards include some of the biggest names in technology: Microsoft, Cisco Systems, 3Com, SAS and others.

Infoliant Corp., which tracks Y2K status of software, said September saw a "disconcerting" number of downgrades -- products originally certified as Y2K-compliant that manufacturers now find are not Y2K-ready.

Locally and nationally, Y2K managers agree in principle with national software productivity guru Capers Jones, who predicts that at least 15 percent of all software applications won't be fixed in time.

The X factor, however, is just how big a problem those late fixes will create.

"In big production shops, minor disasters happen all the time, Y2K or no. We clean 'em up or sweep 'em under the rug, and you never hear about it," said one Northwest consulting engineer.

"Like leaky freighters, the vessels of enterprise information management don't make news as long as the pumps can keep up."

But between now and the first quarter of 2001, the pumps may have a tough time keeping up with the volume of leaks. Jones, the software productivity expert, said performance can plummet by more than 20 percent because of software that hasn't been repaired carefully, tested fully and brought up to peak form.

Already, one big company, Hershey Foods Corp., is reeling from a projected $100 million in lost sales, thanks to snags in new Y2K-compliant software. And Affiliated Computer Services Inc. of Dallas, Texas, spent weeks this summer unraveling thousands of botched ATM transactions after its upgraded software went into production.

In general, however, the folks who staff the information technology pumps are inclined to swagger -- not stagger -- over their ability to overcome any problems that might arise.

For instance, big global corporations expect Y2K to cause 3 percent of their critical systems to fail or malfunction, according to a CIO magazine survey earlier this year. But the vast majority of information technology managers -- 93 percent, according to a Computerworld magazine survey -- are confident that Y2K will bring only spot problems, minor problems or no impact.

Business Solutions Group's Monfared said one manager laid out three potential consequences of his failure to budget for Y2K repairs: First, nothing happens, and he becomes a hero for not spending the money. Second, disaster strikes, and the company needs him to fix the problems. Or third, disaster strikes, and the company fires him.

As for possibility No. 3, the manager told Monfared, "In this market, I should be able to get a job within a week."

Even more distressing to Monfared, however, is the complacency of small-business owners who have watched their enterprises grow from a few PCs to a few dozen PCs "Band-aided together" in a network.

"This reminds me of the people that refuse to get ready for a hurricane when advance warnings are issued," he said.

Worried about attitudes Not everyone is sanguine about the prospect of information systems departments playing a global "Leaky Pipes" game.

"The problem most troublesome to those of us focused on Y2K is that there is still an incredible amount of confidence that it's no big deal to the information systems folks," said consultant Finzel. "So they are doing no contingency planning."

Or virtually none.

"They think contingency planning can be done in an hour session with the heads of departments," says the Y2K project manager on the "death march," the phrase reserved by insiders for those relentless, around-the-clock -- and probably hopeless -- races against an unforgiving Dec. 31 deadline.

The good news is that even the pessimists feel confident about the nation's infrastructure. Utilities, banks, phone companies and other heavily regulated industries largely fixed their most crucial systems months ago.

"The probability of a cascading of computer failures in mission-critical systems is now negligible," Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said in an Oct. 15 speech.

But even the now-optimistic Greenspan offered a caution.

"No one really knows what will happen when the century rolls over," he said. "The century date change, to repeat, is a unique event, and the complexity of the problem suggests that something is likely to slip through the cracks."

-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), October 26, 1999


"No one really knows what will happen...slip through the cracks."

We ALL know what will happen...The INFRASTRUCTURE will slip through the sracks!

-- K. Stevens (kstevens@ It's ALL going away in January.com), October 26, 1999.

Heeheheheheheh, Steve, are you waking up? Did our .00001% doomer remarks at the Meeting inspire you? ;^)

-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (allaha@earthlink.net), October 26, 1999.

A&L -

Great article, huh? Sounds like Steve's getting a clearer picture of just what a beast Y2K may turn out to be.

By the bye, I'll be up Cascadia way around Thanksgiving, but unfortunately not anywhere near Puddle City. I'll be chatting with family about, oh, y'know, things, like the Blazers, and local housing prices, and oh yeah, Y2K. Primarily spending the money in order to spend some time with my Mom, who'll be 80 all too soon.

Hey, who knows? Maybe your boss will get a call or e-mail from my medico brother-in-law after we leave. Hope springs eternal.

-- Mac (sneak@lurk.hid), October 26, 1999.

Excellent post Homer!!!

Many good points in the first dozen or so paragraphs. While each one may be relatively "minor," they each make the problem a little more difficult to fix.

I've said it before. Y2K isn't a big problem. It's a bunch of small problems, all added together.

And I do mean a bunch!

Tick... Tock... <:00=

-- Sysman (y2kboard@yahoo.com), October 26, 1999.

An old saying in manufacturing:

"In this plant, we don't have any million dollar problems. But we have a million one dollar problems."

'nuf said


-- Y2Kook (Y2Kook@usa.net), October 26, 1999.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ