y2k countdown: An Automated Desktop Y2K Discovery Tool

One of the things I learned in my research on the Year 2000 problem, is that very few (if any) organizations of any size actually know much about their desktop resources. Ask any CEO about the number of PCs in the organization and you’re likely to get an answer that is off by at least a factor of 10. Even CIO’s tend to under estimate the percentage of old hardware hanging around and how many outdated software applications are still being used. Add to that the extent to which unauthorized applications have been added by end users who haven’t bothered to go through channels, and you can start to imagine why nobody wants to face the task of bringing all the desktops into Y2K compliance.

How do you start? Take an inventory, you say. Sounds like a good answer -- it’s logical, but you’ll find the answers you get sometimes have little to do with reality. One vendor likes to tell the story of a large financial institution that had an application written in an earlier version of Access and wanted to know if upgrading was necessary. A survey was sent to every end user, who had -- you’ll forgive the pun -- access to the program, and the results were overwhelming. Eighty-three percent said "yes", the application was necessary and they needed the upgrade. However, when the CIO wisely took the next step and decided to track application use, it turned out that only 13 percent actually used the application on a consistent basis.

The moral of the story isn’t that end users lie. It’s just that surveys don’t always get at the real truth. And when you’re dealing with something as expensive and risky as the Year 2000, you’d better have a more accurate way to measure.

One answer is metering software. Inventory packages or asset management tools will give you a catalogue of your PC hardware as well as the applications that are installed on each one. But they won’t tell you anything about usage patterns, which is valuable information when you’re trying to prioritize and find your business-critical applications.

Of course, prioritizing is just the first step in Y2K. You still have to fix what needs fixing, and set up controls to make sure that what is compliant doesn’t get contaminated -- you don’t want all the time and money spent fixing Y2K to be undone by users bringing non-compliant software from home or downloading it from the Internet. You need an automated management tool as well.

But wait a minute, you say. With so little time left, I can’t spend time finding and installing separate software packages and trying to get them to work together. The last thing beleaguered IT departments need is added complexity. The best answer, then, would be a combination metering/asset management tool, and one example is Express 2000 Software Manager from WRQ.

This set of desktop management tools, designed specifically to help companies deal with their Year 2000 problems, includes application scanning, usage metering and reporting and even throws in BIOS testing for good measure. It is a quickly deployed, comprehensive means of bringing desktops into Year 2000 compliance. But, there is also an added advantage. This may be the only software you’ll buy for Y2K that will give you a return on your investment -- its desktop management capabilities will go on well into the next millennium giving you the information you’ll need to get the most out of your software licensing agreements and to control user access to PC resources. Control comes from the ability of the software to instantly identify new programs as they were launched and to immediately notify the administrator of their existence. The administrator can then permit the program to be run or block it.

A feature I particularly like is that the software can distinguish between different versions of the same application. It won’t be fooled even if a user decides to bring in her dust-covered diskette of AmiPro, in hopes that she can get past the control police and still use her favorite word processing package. WRQ says later versions will take control a step further and block certain programs from being run, or conversely, allow only a list of pre-approved packages to be run.

Y2K desktop glitches are in many ways harder to find and fix than mainframe date problems. You need all the help you can get. Express 2000 may not be the solution for you. But when you look at software management programs, keep in mind that you want one that can automate much of the work of finding what is currently on the desktops in your network, and what the compliance status is – whether it’s the BIOS, the operating system or the applications. It’s also a great help to have information on actual use, so you can prioritize what you fix and when.

Finally, make sure that you have some way of keeping the compliant software intact.

Nancy Meachim is Director of International Programs at Aberdeen Group, a Boston based IT consulting and research company, where she also focuses on IT issues associated with Y2K and Euro conversion. She can be reached at 617-723-7300.