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Business Still Not Addressing Y2K Bug

By Rob Kay

At this point it's probably a toss-up as to what you're most tired of hearing about: Y2K predictions or further tales of Monica Lewinsky. In this column we'll stick with the former. Despite the plethora of print that's been written about the Year 2000 Problem, most of what's been discussed concerns the mainframe computers. Not a great deal has been written about PCs which of course most small businesses in Hawaii are dependent upon. The fact is, the older personal computers in operation today will have both hardware and software problems that could directly impact your business.

With Y2K a little over a year away you should really be asking: Are my systems Y2K compliant? A recent study by the Gartner Group, a respected mainland research organization, has determined that at least 30% of US businesses (and possibly up to 50%) haven't addressed this issue. We believe that the Gartner Group statistics reflect the situation in Hawaii as well. Earl Ford, President of Pacific Interactive, a Hawaii computer technology company recommends that even if you don't think Y2K is going to be a problem you should take some steps to prove it. Should you find that you will have problems, consider yourself lucky to have discovered it now so that at least you'll have time to fix it. We strongly agree with Earl that it's better to be safe than very, very sorry come January 1, 2000.

The Problem

Without getting into the electronic nuances, when the calendar page turns to the fabled Y2K the non-compliant (older) PCs will reset the date back to 1900 or 1980 instead of 2000. The upshot is that older systems will not be able to advance their hardware-based system dates to the year 2000 without some type of upgrade. This is most likely due to the Real Time Clock (RTC). The RTC is a hardware clock located inside your PC that keeps the time even when your computer is powered off. If the RTC is wrong, your date-reliant software applications will either crash or respond in some inexplicable manner. This could cause major problems with date-sensitive applications such as accounting, checking, scheduling, calendar, and other applications. As if this problem weren't complicated enough, Earl Ford reminds us that Y2K is also a leap year! This throws even more variables into the mix.


Here are some steps to help you get through this mess. And you can believe us, it will be a mess.

Step 1: Awareness of the Problem: Prior to fixing a problem you must recognize that it exists. There is no question that some PCs will fail on January 1, 2000. The problem is that no one can be sure which machines will crash.

Step 2: Take an Inventory: Before you can even contemplate fixing the problem, you've got to take a complete inventory of your office machines and the software programs that you are running. To inventory hardware you need to know the brand name, processor type, speed, internal and external peripherals (such as modems) and their attributes (such as brand, size, speed, etc) and licensing dates. To inventory software you must know version numbers, licensing dates, expiration dates and what PC is running what applications. Pay close attention to what operating systems you are running as well. Older operating systems such as DOS or Windows 3.1 may be suspect. You can almost bet that if you are running a 386 or 486 there will be problems. It's good to check with Microsoft's Y2K web site (http://www.microsoft.com/technet/topics/year2k/default.htm) to get information on programs or operating systems.

Step 3: Assessment of Y2K Compliance: This is where the fun begins. After your resource inventory is complete you must verify that your hardware and software is compliant. This can be done by either contacting the manufacturer or consulting the manufacturer's web site. Earl Ford of Pacific Interactive tells us that older financial and accounting programs often tend not to be Y2K compliant. Make sure that you have an unequivocal answer from the manufacturer regarding compliancy. Some business in Hawaii such as real estate, construction companies, medical clincs, etc might have very specialized software and will need to call software companies directly. If a software company is out of business or a manufacturer hedges on the question of compliancy, a red flag should go up. If there is any doubt that your program is not compliant you should plan on replacing or updating it. A smart business person should also take a close look at computer-based technology in your office or shop other than your PC. These are known in the parlance as embedded systems and run everything from cell phones, cash registers, adding machines, point of sale devices, and yes, even telephone systems. Thus your cash register, which almost certain has an embedded system, may not be Y2K compliant. When your shop opens up on January 1, 2000 and your cash register doesn't work, that might be a problem you'll wished you'd fixed beforehand. Thus we strongly suggest that any inventory you take of computer systems should include these other (computer-driven) devices.

The next column will discuss what to do after your Y2K inventory is complete. Stay tuned and good luck.

Pacific Business News - Friday January 1, 1999

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