Movin' On

Armed with recent research, my last column, The Y2K Drain, declared that CFOs and executives may be cutting back on new project development disproportionately to the IT funds used to fix the Year 2000 mess. This practice invites specific dangers, not the least of which is falling behind the competition in the development of business-enabling applications.

It is now time for many, if not most, organizations in the U.S. to look beyond the Y2K imbroglio and move money back into new development. It is equally, if not more vital, that the best and the brightest of the human resources get back to the work they were hired to do and stop fixing dated code.

This is not to naively suggest that Y2K is history at most companies; it certainly is not. What I am suggesting is that the bulk of the Y2K work has been completed.

Y2K work stinks. The best project managers receive almost no reward for simply making sure the trains continue to run on time. Y2K work has been aimed at making sure systems don’t break, not at designing systems that enable new business initiatives or move an organization ahead of its competitors. That’s the exciting stuff from which IT project managers derive true intellectual rewards from their sweat. Y2K by comparison has not been exciting stuff.

Now consider this: What job category is so desperate for job candidates that consideration has been given to loosening labor and immigration laws to get more professionals into our work force from places like India and the Ukraine? The answer is not programmers, as you might have thought, but experienced IT project managers.

The shortage of IT professionals is not temporary, as any headhunter will tell you. It’s been around for at least the last three years and shows no sign of abating. It’s almost as though it were a systemic shortage rather than a cyclical shortage. As a result, any and all IT project managers are fair game to the big-time headhunters. Who is the easiest quarry? How about a project manager who’s had it up to his or her eye-teeth with Y2K drudgery and wants to get out of the Y2K sweat shop?

Every organization has to conduct its own Y2K status audit before deciding whether precious project management talent can be redeployed. One recent survey of the Society of Information Management found that 90 percent of senior IT managers polled were highly confident that their companies would be Y2K-compliant before the end of this year. This means the bulk of the large system compliance work has been done, with some testing remaining.

Data also suggests most of the remaining compliance work targets the desktop. It took a while for people to realize the extent to which the date problem had spread -- incidentally I don’t expect anything but burnt toast starting Jan. 1, 2000. There are, however, potentially debilitating, albeit localized, Y2K-related time bombs sitting on desktops everywhere.

You don’t need your best and brightest project managers to resolve these desktop issues. One study by the Framingham, Mass.-based Computerworld Information Management Group found that 98 percent of managers polled say the Y2K desktop problems they have will be resolved by replacing PCs and programs; upgrading PCs and programs; or a combination of both.

This work is vital, but it's not rocket science. The same study found that most desktop compliance work is being done in-house and is probably sucking up the aforementioned scarce project management talent. Why is this the case?

Last year the GartnerGroup looked into the issue of how companies are handling Y2K compliance work and came upon this finding: Small companies spend four times as much of their Y2K budget on outside sources than do large companies -- and twice as much as mid-sized companies. If we assume that most of the computer systems in small companies are small systems, does this spending pattern not demonstrate the feasibility of letting outsiders handle the PC compliance part of your Y2K efforts?

Replacing or upgrading PC hardware and software is one of the simplest and easiest tasks to outsource. Put these tasks in the hands of a good VAR, one that can document Y2K compliance. Let your people go! Or go they surely will. --Bill Laberis is president of Bill Laberis Associates Inc. (Holliston, Mass.) and former editor-in-chief of Computerworld. Contact him at bill@laberis.com.