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Technology Experts Maintain Importance after Y2K
Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Publication date: 2000-08-01
Aug. 1--Information technology experts were in their glory last year. Congress, company executives and the public were clamoring for their help with the Y2K bug.
Techies, who had long lived in the background, suddenly had star power. They were the only ones who could stomp the Y2K bug, a massive threat to computing.
They worked overtime to fix software that might be unable to recognize the year 2000 in computers' internal clocks.
Just as quickly as they rose to prominence, after the New Year came and went with hardly a ripple, many dropped out of sight like exterminators after the bugs are gone.
Although many have faded from view, what they did with Y2K has not faded from many people's minds. Thus it had an important consequence beyond just fixing the Year 2000 problem.
The Y2K phenomenon drew the notice of people who'd never considered the importance of computer systems in elevators, the 911 system and cars.
It forced business and government users to update their data systems and underscored the importance of keeping up with the latest in information technology.
"It broadened information technology, and the potential risks of technological failure, to a much larger audience," said Dale Vecchio, a director at the Gartner Group, a technology research firm in Stamford, Conn. "Y2K was probably the biggest boom for risk-management contingency planning that we have ever seen."
Gartner gained fame by offering some of the first estimates of the astronomical amount of money that would be needed to resolve Y2K.
He and others from his firm spent years following the bug and speaking to executives about the potential threat to their computer systems.
"Having tracked it for five years, I've seen all of it I care to see," Vecchio said.
Yet he acknowledges that the impact of the computer bug is still echoing through industry because more attention is being paid to technology.
Y2K's peculiarity captured the public's imagination.
"As crazy as the problem was, it was an educational experience," Vecchio said. "There are not many times you can look at a problem that impacted the entire planet."
Canadian Peter de Jager was also among the contingent spreading the word about the year 2000 bug. He is credited with bringing the potential problem to the attention of corporate America.
He ran a Y2K compliance Web site at www.year2000.com and led an online discussion group with about 45,000 people. Last year the audiences he spoke before included the U.S. Senate, the Treasury Board of Canada and a group of Silicon Valley high-tech firms.
As a result, he's been typecast as the "Y2K guy."
"It made us very visible. While that was good in order to create awareness of the problem, it takes a while to be known again as what you were doing before," said de Jager, whose focus is now helping companies manage technological change.
De Jager said his and other consultants' high profiles have been good for their industry, although he's glad to put the year 2000 bug behind him.
Because of the efforts of experts like him, information technology -- once described as the corporate garage -- became the corporate darling.
Y2K prompted governments and corporations worldwide to pour more than $300 billion into solving Y2K problems, Vecchio said. With the coffers open, technology managers had the opportunity to push their projects through, and computer-system consulting firms had more business than ever.
Chase was one of the many companies that used its Y2K project to clean up its information technology system. In 1999, the company spent about $158 million on Y2K-related projects, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
"It allowed the technicians to have some funds to do things that it probably wouldn't have, had it not had the attention of Y2K," said Henry Gonzalez, a vice president at Chase Bank of Texas in Houston and a director of the company's Year 2000 programming efforts in the Southwest. "It cost the organization some money, but it will benefit us in the long term."
Gonzalez said his department was able to toss out and update old programs.
Small information technology companies have also been able to capitalize on the attention Y2K brought to their industry.
Houston-based IS&T Staffing Group made fixing Y2K bugs its forte last year. Companies that did not have the technology staff to address Y2K hired companies like IS&T.
Last year, the company's consultants were in high demand, said Tony Pannagl, managing partner at IS&T.
Now Pannagl's firm has gone from fixing bugs to installing and maintaining new software, which has been lucrative. The name recognition the company got during Y2K has helped it gain contracts, he said.
Those contracts have come at a time when e-business is information technology's hot topic. It and other information technology applications that were put on the back burner during year-2000 preparations are now getting industry's full attention.
"Y2K caused more people to pay more attention to technology," Vecchio said. "They are trying to leverage what they learned to try to catch up with the one- or two-year lull of Y2K."
Even de Jager's year2000.com Web site has had to adapt. The site is going through a major renovation. It advises visitors who "have become digital warriors on an electronic battlefield" that it will be coming back later this summer with information about electronic commerce and the Internet.
In the meantime, de Jager is pushing a newsletter called Beyond Year 2000.
To see more of the Houston Chronicle, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.chron.com
-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), August 01, 2000
Aug. 1, 2000, 1:21PM
The amount of money companies spent to combat the Y2K bug varied widely, partly because of the different means used to estimate the expense. For example, some included personnel costs, while others did not. Here's a sampling of what some local corporations said they spent.
Company Amount Compaq Computer Corp. $125 million American General Corp. $98 million Conoco $42 million Reliant Energy $29 million Continental Airlines $20 million Source: Securities and Exchange Commission filings http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/story.hts/business/622002
-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), August 01, 2000.