Will the World End at 12:01, Jan. 1, 2000?

Will the World End at 12:01, Jan. 1, 2000?

By Maggie Macary, Costello & Associates

OK, let`s imagine that it`s New Year`s Eve, 1999, and you`re just about to pop that bottle of champagne to welcome in a new millennium. You look at your friends and family and scoff at the pundits who insisted that the world would end in the year 2000. You smile thinking about the past years and how good life has been. The clock ticks away and suddenly, you are struck by a horrifying thought–did I remember to change that one program that bills our customers or ensures the reliability of the electric or gas system? As the clock ticks louder and louder, you begin to obsess U what about all those programmable meters and how about those RTU`s? Will they work? Your heart is now starting to pound as the countdown begins. You wonder if all those vendor packages are going to work. Countdown … 10 … 9 … 8 … 7 … you begin to wonder if you`ll have a job in 2000 … 6 … 5 … Will the company survive? 3 … 2 … 1.

What is the Millennium Problem, and Why Haven`t We Dealt With It?

Years ago–way before data storage was cheap–programmers commonly used a two-digit year format in order to save storage space. This convention became routine even as the price of storage dropped. Computer programs, database structures, data entry screens and reports that utilize this two-digit year format will be unable to cope with the change to the year 2000. On 01-01-2000, computers around the world will attempt to process a “00” year. Some programs will crash. Some will create countless error conditions. Worst of all, some will just cause erroneous results that may not be readily detected. Adding to this problem is the confusion over whether the year 2000 is a leap year or not. Generally, years ending in zeroes are not leap years, but 2000 is a leap year … an exception to the exception. Most applications systems are date intensive. Dates are database keys. Dates are used to sort and compare information. Dates are required to validate input.

This situation is not trivial. The Gartner Group, an industry research organization, estimates that the worldwide cost of fixing systems for the year 2000 problem will be $300 billion to $500 billion. The National Institute of Standards and Technology estimates that it will take an average of one programmer per year to analyze, modify and test between 100,000 and 167,000 lines of code. Based on the amount of effort with the limited time remaining, Gartner Group predicts that by the end of 1999, less than 50 percent of information technology (IT) organizations will be 100 percent compliant.

Why Haven`t We Dealt With It?

Faced with enormous challenges in an increasingly competitive environment, utility companies may be especially hard hit. Year 2000 compliance hardly seems urgent to IT organizations that are stressed by the continuous need to juggle rapidly changing business environments with increased cost consciousness.

But utilities are not the only culprits. The U.S. Government has recently begun to face the issue of compliance. In a Sept. 5, 1996, letter to President Clinton, Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.), warned of the “extreme negative economic consequences” brought about by lack of year 2000 compliance. Moynihan has requested that Clinton hire a Year 2000 “czar” to ensure that federal agencies and those companies that do business with the government are compliant by Jan. 1, 1999. The Federal Office of Management and Budget has admitted that it does not have the dollars or the resources to tackle the Year 2000 problem.

What Should We Do Now?

If your senior management doesn`t understand about the Year 2000 problem, educate them now. With all the problems facing utility management these days, senior management may not understand the urgency of this problem.

There is a simple way to get their attention. Point out to them that it is the legal responsibility of directors of U.S. companies to be the stewards of their company`s assets. As the millennium approaches and reporting on the Year 2000 problem becomes increasingly widespread, senior management will have a difficult time explaining to their stockholders, customers and suppliers that they were ignorant of the impact of this problem on their business. Lawyers are already beginning to discuss the legal liabilities of companies and directors of companies when business failures are caused by the failure to address the Year 2000 problem. Additionally, the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires a management report in a publicly held company`s annual report. It is reasonable to assume that the SEC will require companies to address Year 2000 compliance as part of this management report. If businesses suffer losses because of computer failures due to the Year 2000 problem, there will be legal ramifications. Business insurance polices will not cover losses due to negligence of the problem. Companies are increasingly being advised to document their Year 2000 efforts to protect themselves from the risks and accusations associated with Year 2000 expense, negligence and non-disclosure.

Additionally, tell senior management that this problem goes beyond their own company and company systems. Ensure that they understand that any evaluation of mergers and acquisitions should include evaluations of Year 2000 compliance. Make them understand that partnering relationships with suppliers or other companies should include disclosure of Year 2000 compliance. Finally, make senior management understand that Year 2000 compliance is essential for staying in business after the millennium change.

Begin Emergency Rescue Procedures

Okay, it is now 1997. Senior management is paying attention and the clock is still ticking. Now what? Year 2000 industry experts, who are growing in number day by day, all advise a systematic but somewhat drastic approach to rescuing your business from the problem.

The first thing to do is to pull together a senior level steering committee and determine what is mission critical for the company to survive the millennium. This sounds easy, but be prepared for business as usual to occur. If possible, bring in an outside facilitator or negotiator to help in this effort.

Make a list of what systems have to be correct in order for the company to minimize losses and survive the millennium. Then pare the list down. Look at the functions each system provides and decide if some of them can be streamlined a bit. But, be aware that any system deemed partially critical will probably have to be made compliant or rewritten.

Once you have achieved concurrence on the mission critical systems, prioritize everything else. Create your system inventories and begin to look for help in doing an impact analysis. There is plenty of software out there that will help analyze code. Choosing the right tools and the right companies to aid in this effort is essential. Once the code has been analyzed, the real compliance plan must be implemented. IT must decide whether to approach the compliance fixes from a data or procedural point of view.

Holding on to your Staff During the Crunch

As the deadline grows nearer, the need to secure competent legacy system professionals becomes vital. Research analysts have determined that the demand for such professionals will not be met. There is no relief in sight for this demand for the next three to five years as companies struggle with the approach and the aftermath of the Year 2000 compliance problems. Already, COBOL and RPG programmers are being wooed from their employers with promises of 20 to 40 percent salary increases. Finding replacements for these programmers will be increasingly difficult and expensive. Utility companies must recognize and address this up front by evaluating programmer salary levels. Ultimately, salary adjustments may not be enough. Management should discuss long-term career directions with their employees and ensure them that when the crisis is over, they will have a solid professional career path.

Sourcing the Fix

Despite all intentions of keeping the work and your programmers in house, as the deadline grows closer, there will be a requirement for outsourcing some of the work. It is important to begin as soon as possible to identify, evaluate and negotiate with contractors and outsourcers to aid in fixing Year 2000 problems. This problem is becoming a booming cottage industry and there will be no end of vendors knocking on the door, trying to convince utility business and IT management that they have or are the solution to the problem. Recognize this and begin right now to develop a strategy in dealing with outside companies offering Year 2000 services. Assume that you will need multiple sources to fix the problem and begin to contract now with the companies that can best meet your needs.

How Do We Test It?

In all the discussions about Year 2000 fixes, there seems to be little said about testing the fixes. Most companies that perform Year 2000 program fixes will perform a basic unit test of the program. Some might help in doing overall system testing. But it is questionable how much regression testing of modified code will happen. Regression testing ensures that nothing else in the program was impacted by the fix made, and if it is not done properly and completely, systems may experience more than just date-oriented problems. Additionally, most cost estimates of the Year 2000 fix neglect to include the cost of user acceptance testing. It is vital to set up a formalized test plan for all systems undergoing modifications and potentially all systems that interface with modified systems. The level of testing performed on a modified system is comparable to the importance of the system to the survival of the company. Test plans and test scripts should also become prioritized as the deadline gets nearer. Recognize that some systems will have limited testing but ensure that the most mission critical systems have some assurance of reliability.

How to Ensure that any Current or New Purchased Software is Compliant

Ask. That is the simplest answer to ensuring that software and hardware is Year 2000 compliant. Unfortunately, most vendors will tell you either they are compliant or that they have plans to be compliant. A simple statement from the vendor will not be enough to satisfy legal requirements if a problem develops. As the countdown continues, there is a growing demand for legal advice in Year 2000 compliance warranties. Legal experts agree that warranties should include statements ensuring the software`s ability to be used prior to, during and after the calendar year 2000 without errors due to date problems. Such legal statements will ensure that utility software and hardware vendors will take compliance seriously and take steps to test and modify their products to meet the requirements of the warranty. Additionally, such compliance agreements and warranties becomes part of the Year 2000 documentation necessary to protect the utility company from negligence lawsuits if a Year 2000 problem arises. Utilities should get their legal teams involved now in drafting standard Year 2000 compliance warranties.

Going Beyond Software

Generally, Year 2000 compliance is seen as a software problem. But increasingly in the IT community, there are tales of hardware impact. The biggest of these is the DOS BIOS problem on some PCs. Briefly, PCs maintain two system dates: a CMOS real-time clock chip on the motherboard and a DOS system date. The CMOS date includes century, two-digit year, month and day but has a potential flaw in which the century will not change to 20 at the millennium change. Additionally, some CMOS chips do not recognize valid years beyond 1999. The DOS date is based on the number of days since 1/1/1980 based on the CMOS date and is converted by programs to a YYYY/MM/DD. If the CMOS chip does not handle year 2000 correctly, PCs will have incorrect system dates. This problem is seen even in newer PCs.

But utilities need to look beyond PCs in their organizations. Utilities utilize lots of electronics in their operations, including hand-held devices, programmable meters, RTUs, security card systems and countless safety devices in power plants. In these units, there are two levels of concern. One is whether or not they have any kind of clock chip that will impact date calculations. The second is whether they are programmed correctly to calculate Year 2000 dates, especially the exception to the leap year rule.

Utilities need to test all of these electronic devices in their organizations both for hardware impact and for any software/programming. This should include a complete, in shop test on all kinds of electronic devices. Set the clock to 1/31/99 and watch what happens over a period of time. Ensure that the device recognizes the date 2/29/2000. In addition, the utility should obtain the Year 2000 compliance warranties for electronic devices from all manufacturers.

As the days tick by, the problem of Year 2000 compliance becomes more and more critical. Utilities must take decisive action now to ensure their survival into the 21st century. In any case, expect the post New Year`s hangover to last long into the next century.

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Compliance for newly purchased software and hardware will be a major issue through the next millennium. Photo courtesy of Solartron.

Author Bio

Maggie Macary is a principal in c.w. Costello and Associates Inc.`s Utility Practice. She specializes in developing strategies and implementations of technology for the evolving deregulated utility industry.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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