Expert offers advice on Y2K to small businesses
September 19, 1999
In times of crisis, people act differently. Some will build bomb shelters and others who will do nothing. According to Monty Rutherford, more people need to fall in the middle of the two extremes.
Rutherford is the project manager and field engineer for Mid-America Manufacturing Center (MAMTAC) and said more than 50 percent of the 23 million small businesses will experience computer problems due to Y2K.
He spoke during the State of the County Y2K Update Thursday.
“Every business that has a computer is vulnerable,” Rutherford said. He also laid out a five-step plan for businesses to be ready for the millennium.
Awareness is the first step toward complete readiness. This includes educating and involving all levels of the organization in solving the problem. Creating a communication strategy to be sure everyone in the company is informed is also important. A good way to do this is to hold seminars or meetings and bring in outside speakers.
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The next step is to inventory everything that could be a problem. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), problem areas normally occur with equipment dealing with a two-digit date format. The possibility of Y2K problems is something inherited from the early days of computers. In those days programmers used a two-digit entry to signify years instead of four-digit entries. This type of format cannot process dates in two different centuries. When year 2000 arrives, programs that have the two-digit code could interpret the year “00” as “1900” or “2000.” This could cause computers to generate incorrect data or in a worst-case scenario, shut down. These types of systems are found almost everywhere, including computer-aided dispatch services and security equipment.
According to Rutherford, the inventory process takes about two weeks for an average business.
After taking an inventory, companies should assess how severe and widespread any problems are and determine what needs to be corrected. Potential existing problems need to be dealt with immediately. Companies should develop a strategy for dealing with these areas and there are only three possible strategies: repair, replace or retire the system.
When a system is not Y2K ready, it should be determined how critical that system is to the business. If a system prints invalid dates on internally used reports, that problem may not be significant enough to address. But if a system loses track of inventory data or fails to forecast properly, it should be repaired.
When problem areas are assessed, correction and testing is necessary to implement a readiness strategy. This strategy should be tested and the test will verify the systems are operating properly. The best way to check systems is to test it as if it were already 2000. Rolling a system clock ahead should be a good indication of what will happen on the eve of the new millennium.
The final step in assuring a smooth transition into the year 2000 is implementation. Putting into effect the installation and contingency plans will place the company on the track to Y2K compliance. An installation plan will list all files and programs that need to be moved into an implementation plan. The installation plan should include testing and a contingency plan will list possible problems and steps to take if these problems do occur.
Taking these steps will allow companies to become better prepared for a Y2K glitch. No one is quite sure what will happen on New Year’s Day 2000, but officials in every sort of business should be prepared for the worst.
Every business consists of a chain of customers, suppliers, utilities and vendors. If each link is Y2K compliant, the transition will run smoothly.
Rutherford also said officials expect to see litigation amounts of $1 trillion after Y2K.