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JILT 1998 (1) - John Craparo

The Year 2000 Problem

A Literature Review

Reviewed by
John S. Craparo
Pace University
john.craparo@gecapital.com

Books Reviewed:

K.C. Bourne's 'Year 2000 Solutions for Dummies', IDG Books, 1997, US$24.99, 334pp, ISBN: 0-7645-0241-7

Peter de Jager and Richard Bergeon's 'Managing 00: Surviving the Year 2000 Computer Crisis'John Wiley and Sons, 1997, US$19.99, 222pp, ISBN: 0-471-17937-X

Jim Keogh's 'Solving the Year 2000 Problem', AP Professional, 1997, US$27.95, 257pp, ISBN: 0-1257-5560-0

Jerome T. Murray and Marilyn J Murray's 'The Year 2000 Computing Crisis', McGraw Hill, 1996, US$49.00, 321pp, ISBN: 0-0791-2945-5

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This is a Book Review published on 27 February 1998.

Citation:Craparo J, 'The Year 2000 Problem: A Review of the Literature', Book Review, 1998 (1) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/bookrev/98_1y2k/>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1998_1/craparo/>


1. Introduction

History has provided us with a great deal of evidence regarding mankind's penchant for destroying the knowledge of which it is the progenitor. An early example is the destruction of the great library at Alexandria in 640 AD by invading hordes. Fast-forwarding six centuries, we come upon the Inquisition which provided mankind with ways to torture and kill individuals branded as heretics when, for the most part, they were just people with a desire to explore new areas of science and philosophy. The twentieth century bears witness to fascist book burners and their allied atrocities. This historical pattern of destruction is rooted in religious and political fear .

We are rushing toward another window of knowledge eradication. This one is not rooted in politics or religion. It stems from a poor and myopic implementation of technology; a hidden war between good and bad programming. When the year 2000 is reached, computing devices around the world will begin to return miscalculations if the programs they execute use dates in their formulas. The problem has to do with the way the year is stored. Most programs store the year as two digits. For example, 1997 would be stored as 97 with the assumption that it refers to the twentieth century. Come the year 2000, any program in which this assumption was used will execute its calculations as if it were the year 1900.

This computer bug has far reaching implications. Everyone should be actively engaged in understanding and repairing this problem. Today the fix has been left to the leaders of commerce and the information industry. It has been estimated that the cost to reprogram the world's computers and allied devices will exceed US$ 300 billion prior to the close of 1999. It has been argued by Steve Elias and others that the legal profession should join their business and technology counterparts in this effort. Proactive participation before the close of the millennium will help mitigate the US$ 1 trillion in litigation that will likely follow 1 January 2000.

This article will consist of a review of four recently published books which claim to assist in the efforts to eliminate what is alternately known as the Year 2000 Problem, The Millennium Bug, or the Y2K Problem. Perhaps the answer to a computergeddon lies in one or more of these manuscripts.

2. Part 1

This is a subject that does not lend itself well to cookbook solution approaches. There are too many variables involved to make such an approach valuable to an audience whose information systems may date from the 1960s. In The Year 2000 Computing Crisis, the authors attempt a cookbook approach which fails to assist a broad audience. The book is aimed at technical personnel who already understand where the problem with their systems exists. Too much time is spent discussing the historical aspects of how modern calendars came into existence. This background is irrelevant and can be covered in a chapter sidebar. The authors supply a 3.5" floppy disk which includes the ASCII source-code of programs which can be used to convert various date types and algorithms encountered in COBOL programs to Year 2000 compliant forms. The text of the book is mainly hard copy printouts of these programs, a true waste of valuable natural resources.

Solving the Year 2000 Problem boasts a title that promises to deliver a solution. Here the author takes a management approach to the problem. The book is well organized and makes a good attempt at stepping the reader through an awareness and project management scheme. The problem is explained from the view of the central organization. It then presents the reader with various scenarios that illustrate where dangers exist. Customers, suppliers, documentation and employee turnover all have an effect on the situation and the reader is warned not to take an organization-centric view. The author provides the reader with good advice regarding litigation, pointing out that damages awarded to plaintiffs in legal actions will likely outweigh the costs incurred in order to fix the problem. Five common system date fixes are covered. The downside here revolves around the use of pseudocode to illustrate those solutions. The book is aimed at a general management audience and then it suddenly slips in some source-code program listings that assume the reader is also a programmer. This could have easily been avoided by using program flow chart diagrams instead. A good technician could build flow diagrams that anyone can understand.

Peter de Jager is one of the authors of Managing 00. The book jacket boasts that he is, 'the leading spokesperson for the year 2000 problem, appearing at an average of two conferences a month'. Sadly, this becomes evident very quickly. The book does little to help the reader gain any deep understanding of the problem or how to go about fixing it. It is full of disjointed charts and examples that seem to be the anecdotes a public speaker might use to surprise and delight an audience. For example, a list of 20 Microsoft products is presented with a column that shows the highest date the associated product is capable of handling. All the authors do with this chart is tell the reader that it is important to treat the rest of the firm's portfolio with the same diligence presented here. This chart, borrowed from the Internet, does not illustrate great diligence. Later in the book, the authors discuss the merits of various software tool types that can be used to uncover and fix the Y2K bug on various platforms and software programs. This gives the reader an idea of the tool types that exist, but leaves them wondering where to go to find them.

It is clear that Year 2000 Solutions for Dummies was contrarily written for a very smart audience. K.C. Bourne purports to be a database admininstrator (DBA). These are the folks that normally design the schemas and manage the organization of data that is stored in computer systems. They are the hub around which most application programmers and system analysts revolve. Bourne is much more than a DBA - the author is a thoughtful writer. The problem is explained with greater clarity and with better illustrations than can be found in the other three books combined. The book presents a solid methodology for auditing all of the systems and associated incoming and outgoing data feeds in the organization. The different types of date problems and their solutions are presented and expertly explained. The reader only needs a basic understanding of mathematics; not a degree in computer science. Project management, budgeting, personnel management and rewards, and legal ramifications are all addressed in fine detail. The book is also a rich source of references to software, user groups, journals, and software sites related to solving the problem.

3. Part 2

As the year 2000 approaches it is clear that several things will happen. The cost to fix the year 2000 problem will increase, qualified personnel needed to correct the problem will become scarce due to a demand for their skills, staff will begin to turnover due to better offers and in some cases fear, overburdened consulting firms will cease taking on new clients, and systems that have not received remedial maintenance will become more difficult to bring into compliance.

The urgency involved with correcting the systems and allied devices that can have a material effect on a business organization, a charity, a government, or the citizens of the world cannot be underestimated. Resources which slow down those charged with correcting the problem should be avoided. Reference books that dwell on the historical aspects of the problem or are narrowly focused (Murray & Murray), mislead the reader with annotated directories of consulting firms which are little more than thinly veiled reprints of marketing literature (Keogh), or amount to poorly organized high-level white papers ( de Jager & Bergeon) should be avoided. Those charged with fixing the problem or understanding how to assist in assuaging its risks are well advised to read Year 2000 Solutions for Dummies.

4. Conclusion

As I completed writing this review, an envelope was delivered to my office. It was a certified letter which required my signature for release. The return address was Oracle Corporation, the software manufacturer. The envelope contained a form letter which explained that certain products sold by Oracle are not Y2K compliant. The list of offending products was attached along with a statement that the manufacturer strongly recommends that its customers immediately migrate to the suggested versions that are compliant. Was this a customer focused manufacturer warning a client of an impending problem, or a software company that is proactively trying to reduce both parties risk of future litigation, or a savvy legal department creating a paper trail? As a customer and a professional, I hope the answer is yes to all of the above.

There are also a number of places on the web to turn for assistance. The following web pages are fairly generic and will lead to software companies, consulting firms, law practices, and government agencies. This is not an exhaustive list; however, it will provide a doorway to hundreds of resources.

The Year 2000 Information Center - www.year2000.com

Management Support Technology - <www.mstnet.com/year2000/yr2000.htm>

Information Technology Association of America - <www.itaa.org/year2000.htm>

CIO Magazine Y2K Page - http://www.cio.com/research/y2k/index.html

The National Bulletin Board for Year 2000 - <it2000.com>

US Government Year 2000 Government Directory - <www.itpolicy.gsa.gov/mks/yr2000/y2khome.htm>

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