From HP Professional July, 1998 -- Enterprise Systems" />

No Easy Decisions For Y2K Intelligence Developers</h1><center><font color="blue"><br>From HP Professional</font> July, 1998 </center>

Decision support systems have become increasingly important to many companies as they turn mountains of raw data into valuable information that can be used to make more intelligent business decisions. As companies race to solve the Y2K problem in COBOL-based operational systems like accounting and human resources, many IT managers are neglecting to consider the impact of the Year 2000 on their decision support systems. To make matters worse, this situation now comes at a time when business intelligence is increasingly viewed as a critical resource by corporate management.

The importance of business intelligence to companies was highlighted in a recent survey of over 350 Fortune 1,000 companies sponsored by Business Objects (San Jose, Calif.). The survey showed that 63 percent of IT managers believed that company management would not tolerate or would be reluctant to accept any reduction in decision support management information.

Risking Impact
Unfortunately, the report concluded that the decision support systems at many companies are at risk of becoming non-functional on January 1, 2000. It showed that more than 97 percent of the companies surveyed had started a Year 2000 assessment, yet almost half had not started an assessment of the impact on decision support systems. In addition, the report uncovered that almost half of the organizations have significantly underestimated the Year 2000 problem as a whole and should spend more of their total IT budget on the Year 2000 problem than they are currently spending.

There are a multitude of Y2K projects where legacy reports are in bad shape, said William M. Ulrich, president of Tactical Strategy Group, Inc. and co-author of The Year 2000 Software Crisis (Prentice Hall Computer Books, 1997). Many are written in fourth-generation languages that are old, difficult and expensive to fix and, in some cases, obsolete. It appears that companies have two choices: to fix the problem now or do nothing and hope for the best.

The risks of doing nothing, however, can be high. Many of these older systems will not work in the next millennium and without access to business intelligence in today's fast moving, competitive marketplace, companies can quickly loose their competitive advantage by having to fall back on making decisions the old fashioned way, by gut feel. With organizations already stretching to find sufficient COBOL resources to address the Y2K problem in operational systems, Business Objects is advising organizations to solve the Year 2000 decision support problem in one of three ways: data marts; packaged application decision support; or production reporting. Each of these methods avoids the need to rewrite old COBOL reports and thus frees resources that can then be focused on operational systems problems.

Data Marts Rather than investing scarce COBOL resources to rewrite old production reports, organizations can start from scratch by building new data marts to meet their decision support needs. These data marts can then be used as the backbone for new decision support systems where reports are re-implemented using modern tools.

Packaged Application Decision Support Many organizations are applying the same philosophy mentioned above to their operational systems and, rather than attempting to maintain them, are simply acquiring modern packaged applications from vendors like SAP and PeopleSoft. Most business intelligence vendors offer templates that can be used to accelerate the creation of new, decision support systems that provide access to the information used by these applications.

Production Reporting Organizations with the least resources available to solve the Y2K problem for decision support systems can use production report servers to run reports against production databases during off-hours and distribute those reports to users via mail systems, or by publishing them on the Web.

Implementing a new decision support solution is a smart way to address these issues, and has the added benefit of saving skilled COBOL programmers for correcting Y2K problems in the essential operational systems that run the business, commented Ulrich.

Clearly, decision support in most large organizations is in critical shape. But it's not too late for organizations to begin implementing one of these solutions, concluded Ken Orr, founder of The Ken Orr Institute, a business technology research organization concentrating on the Year 2000 issue. By replacing their critical COBOL reports with more modern decision support system products and using data warehousing technology, organizations can both solve a major component of their Y2K problems and create a far more dynamic information environment for end users that will take them well into the next millennium.

With the next millennium about a year and half away, now is the time to begin evaluating the effect of the year 2000 on decision support systems. If you find your company can't live without business intelligence, one of the solutions outlined above should keep your decision support system working well into the next century.

Dave Kellogg is vice president of corporate marketing for Business Objects (San Jose, Calif.)