Letter from Ed - Here Comes Y2K!
PE publisher explores the Y2K issue and makes a few predictions about its impact on the industry.
By Dr. Ed Brindley
Date Posted: 4/1/1999
A few years ago nobody had heard of Y2K. Now the media is awash with Y2K updates.
Attitudes vary widely about what will happen when we ring in the new year. Increasingly people are expressing concern about this year as it progresses.
For those who dismiss problems with computers misinterpreting dates on January 1, 2000, Y2K goes much deeper than it might appear.
The problem is not just with large customized programs for utility, banking, and telecommunication companies. While these areas are critical for society, they are by no means the whole story. Many large companies involved in these basic industries have spent millions. In fact, some major banks have spent half a billion dollars just to fix a single bank’s systems. Anybody who wants to just laugh off the Y2K issue should ask a simple question. Would any large corporation spend half a billion dollars or more to fix a problem if it did not have a real problem? I think not!
Even if major service industries and large corporations are able to get all of their programs fixed and defective chips replaced, millions of smaller companies have older computers and outdated programs that are running important functions. Regardless of what somebody wants to think, we do have a problem — a big problem! How many of the millions of problems will be fixed in time is anybody’s guess.
In the early days of computers when memory was more expensive, computer programmers took the easy, less expensive way out and used a two-digit code to represent the year. Thus, 99 was used to represent 1999. What will happen when we hit the year 2000 and 00 comes up in software programs and internal chip programs? If it reads 00 as 1900 instead of 2000, will this affect a particular application? Many times it will have no impact. But with literally tens of billions of chips in our society, it will probably be more than a little inconvenient.
The best case scenario suggests that we will have minor glitches. A more likely possibility sees major problems, how many nobody knows. Major concerns in society include water availability, food delivery, banking services, electrical service, and telecommunication services...to name just a few. The worst case scenario would be a total failure of society and chaos in the streets.
Every small company should strive to test its computers and computerized production systems. Ask your suppliers. In some cases it may be wise to set up a computer’s clock and see what happens. Make every effort to check out the functions that use computers and computer chips - machinery, office systems, security systems, phone systems, etc. There may be some legal preparations that one should be taking.
Every reader may want to consider taking actions at home. Some consider water, food, fuel and possibly a generator to be wise preparation. I am fairly certain that the situation will be worse than the most optimistic expected. And it is almost certain to be less traumatic than the most pessimistic estimates. But do not be surprised if you have to put up with more than just a few minor inconveniences.
Expect the hoopla to grow through the year. Increasingly people will be gathering food and making preparations. Some goods may become scarce because manufacturers cannot keep shelves stocked. People will probably want to have more cash than usual on hand. This could cause a major problem with a shortage of cash to handle the demand.
The pallet industry may see an increase in pallet demand if more manufacturers are asked to carry parts and products for their customers. Of course, this could be followed by a downward balancing inventory adjustment in the year 2000.
While not an alarmist, I do believe in being aware and taking some basic precautions. A significant shift in buying patterns will impact our society. This can add fuel to the fire if people cannot keep it in perspective. At the least Y2K will be interesting. At the worst, who knows?
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