SALT LAKE TRIBUNE: "Y2K Bug Brought World Closer Together" - 'Y2K' morphs into 'NWO...' : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread


Y2K Bug Brought World Closer Together

Sunday, January 9, 2000


There's an adage: That which does not kill me makes me stronger. p> It seems to apply to computers and the year 2000 bug (Y2K). The pesky little software glitch threatened to bring down the world's computer systems as clocks turned to 2000. Obviously, it didn't happen.

That might make you wonder whether Y2K was baloney, a waste of all the money and energy invested in fixing it. But anyone who has worked on the problem will say the bug was very real. And fixing it is expected to have benefits that reverberate long after the last New Year's Eve hangover fades. "The efficiencies from Y2K are going to be big and unreported, which is great for the economy," says John Russell of Chicago-based Bank One. "Over time, the payback will be equal to the expense."

Rationalization? Wishful thinking? That's possible. After all, companies and governments poured more than $200 billion into Y2K fixes. It would be devastating to think the benefits ended Saturday at one second after midnight.

Yet across all kinds of industries and the world, benefits appear to be real. Y2K forced entities to clean up computer messes, buy new systems and push technology issues in front of upper management. Perhaps the most lasting reward isn't even about computers. From Detroit to Caracas, Venezuela, and Riga, Latvia, companies and governments took international cooperation to astounding new levels. Because business is global and electronic networks span national boundaries, organizations everywhere had to care how Y2K played out in other places.

"Y2K is one of the most vivid examples of global human cooperation ever seen in the history of the world," gushes Gary Beach, publisher of CIO magazine, which followed Y2K. Says John Koskinen, who led the Clinton administration's Y2K effort: "In countries that have basically been enemies and in some places are shooting at each other, they have been working together to jointly solve this problem."

First things first, though. Would computer systems have crashed if not for fixes? One answer comes from Ottawa. It ran tests of its 911 system and found it would have failed. Defibrillators carried by firefighters to treat heart attacks wouldn't have worked. About 4,000 government PCs would have crashed. The region spent $54 million (Canadian) on Y2K. "The money spent on the fix was well spent," Ottawa Fire Chief Gary Richardson told the Ottawa Citizen.

The retail industry feels the same. "A survey we did in 1997 showed that if big retailers sat on their hands and did nothing at all, they would not have opened this morning [Saturday]," says Cathy Hotka of the National Retail Federation. No retailer reported computer trouble after New Year's.

Cynics wonder about places that allegedly did nothing or very little to fix Y2K. There were few problems reported anywhere in the world, even from those behind the Y2K curve. Doesn't that prove the bug was benign, negating the supposed benefit of fixing it?

Not exactly, experts say. Contrary to public assumptions, it seems there was hardly anyplace that didn't work to fix Y2K. Estonia had been stuck with a broken-down telecom system left from its days in the Soviet Union. But with help from the British, Estonian Telephone met Y2K standards. It said on Jan. 1 that "all necessary systems have been updated."

It had no glitches.

Similarly, the Bank of Botswana started work on Y2K in 1998. It called on experts from the United States' Ernst & Young, South African Reserve Bank, Standard Chartered Bank UK and others. Sunday, the national banking system reported no problems except a single ATM that had a non-Y2K failure.

In the United States, the benefits of Y2K fixes go beyond just keeping the computers running:

-- New capabilities. Some companies used Y2K as a reason to install new systems that can now be deployed strategically. Bank One is a good example. Its new systems will let the bank complete its check clearing up to four hours earlier a day. "That's a huge deal," Russell says. It gives the bank more time to correct any problems before getting money to the Federal Reserve and increases its deposit base at the Fed. More money clears and less is on the books. "Money is like retail inventory. It's no different than a pair of jeans on the shelf. It's unproductive inventory until it's moved."
7-Eleven's Y2K fix included installing a new information system in 5,000 stores that will provide the backbone for a new offering called V.Com, says Linda Svehlak, vice president of information systems. V.Com is targeted at customers who do not have home Internet access. By 2001, people will be able cash checks, buy movie tickets and order products from e-tailers at machines in 7-Elevens and pick up ordered items at the store the next day.

-- Fixing messes. Boeing began preparing for Y2K in 1994. "We knew we'd need six years to eat this elephant," spokesman Bob Jorgensen says. "We went through more than 300 million lines of computer code written over 30 years in 53,000 systems and discovered a significant amount of old code of computer instructions that were no longer viable. When we stripped out the old computer code, we got more storage space for programs." He compared the process to "going through and cleaning out old stuff from your closets."
General Motors reduced redundancy in its computer systems by 25 percent, says Don Costantino, director of GM's Y2K program. That helped streamline systems and get more of GM's computers running the same software. "It's a lot easier talking across countries when you're using the same hardware and software," he says.
An amazing number of entities -- including Ford Motor and the Federal Aviation Administration -- simply didn't know what technology they had before diving into Y2K fixes. "Many companies' information systems crept up on them as they grew," says Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America. "They're getting a lot better grasp on their hardware and software and are able to rationalize it and save money."

-- New management tricks. The Treasury Department, which spent nearly $2 billion on Y2K, has learned new skills for managing complex, computer-intensive projects. Laurie Coots of ad agency TBWA/Chiat/Day says Y2K made CEOs learn their information-technology departments. "It was one of the first things that gave CEOs a reason to think IT people were mission critical."
At Beverly Enterprises, the nation's largest nursing home chain, Y2K preparations helped fine-tune disaster plans, spokesman Dan Springer says. "As a company, we're in a better position to take care of our people than we ever have been," he says.

-- International cooperation. GM is a massive, tentacled global company. It had never managed a single project so huge and on such a global scale as Y2K. Making it work was an important victory, GM's Costantino says. "We are not going to lose what we learned."
But it went beyond corporate boundaries, as Estonian Telephone and Bank of Botswana showed. Y2K expert Koskinen tells this about South American power companies and Y2K: "As they mapped for the first time the electric power grid and oil and gas transmission system throughout South America, their consensus was that when the dust settled, they needed to cooperate on a joint electric power project for the entire continent. They had never done that before."
Koskinen plans to try to turn Y2K cooperation into long-term economic ties. Others in business and government have similar comments. Perhaps one of the greatest manmade crises can make the world stronger.


-- John Whitley (, January 09, 2000


Thanks, John. Good catch! There's a bunch of info in this article.

-- Bayou Boy (, January 09, 2000.

Don't Know... sounds like more control to me

-- salene (, January 09, 2000.

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