Strengthening the Achilles Heel of Y2K

A recent survey from Merrill Lynch Co. Inc. finds most major corporations expect to be Year 2000 ready by the end of this year. However, this confidence does not extend to trading partners -- many companies fear they may still be in jeopardy if their vendors and suppliers cannot handle Year 2000 dates. A new service seeks to help assure Year 2000 compliance among trading partners, at least at the EDI interface level.

Sterling Commerce Inc. (Columbus, Ohio) unveiled a service, called Commerce Y2K, to help assist vendors assure their hub companies that they are in compliance with ANSI standards regarding Year 2000 dates sent over EDI. There are two approaches that are acceptable -- either having the ability to read two-digit years as Year 2000 dates or using expanded four-digit year fields, says John Reat, manager of Y2K services for Sterling Commerce.

Sterling's service is directed at vendor companies that wish to certify Year 2000-readiness to hub companies, explains Reat. "We conduct testing that satisfies the sponsor company that its trading partners are going to be able to receive the transaction and process it properly."

In the case of suppliers to major retailers, results are being posted to a compliance Web site run by the National Retail Federation. As an industry, retailers are looking to partners to properly process two-digit years as Year 2000 dates -- known as "00" testing, he says. Currently, Sterling is working with trading partners of Toys 'R Us Inc. and J.C. Penney Co. Inc. to assure these vendors' ability to handle Year 2000 EDI transmissions.

Of course, the ability to handle Year 2000-compliant EDI doesn't mean a trading partner's internal systems are ready for the millennium, Reat cautions. "We only test at the EDI level. There should be no inferences drawn that all business systems within a trading partner are now Y2K compliant."

Sterling Commerce develops kits containing ANSI-compliant templates that match the EDI standard documents of a hub or larger trading partner. The templates are made available to the hub's trading partners online. Sterling Commerce also provides testing and certification services for companies using Sterling's Gentran EC message management and EDI translation software, as well as other EDI translation software.