y2k countdown: The Speed of Thought

Most of us wish Year 2000 resolutions would occur at the speed of thought. The nearest human resemblance to such super anticipation skills was in the “M*A*S*H” TV series. Corporal Walter “Radar” O’Reilly, company clerk, could anticipate the thoughts and needs of his commanding officer Colonel Blake (and later, Col.Potter) and other superiors and resolve them before being asked. If we could do this, there would be no Year 2000 projects!

Do you remember the Rubic’s Cube? There were nine squares per side, representing six different colors. The object was to get all the same colors back on the same side as quickly as possible. Interdependencies abounded. Naturally, all the little squares had their sides of the same six colors. So much for background and likeness to a Y2K problem set.

As a quick test of brainpower, how many cubes are there in this well known brainteaser? There are 54 surface squares, if that helps, but that is not the answer. It is OK to draw a picture or a map/plan to solve the question. STOP! Save this for lunchtime or a coffee break.

This whole business of managing a Year 2000 project requires concentration and the ability to track process and data flow, all to ensure non-ambiguous accuracy and consistency throughout the system and to/from our clients and suppliers. RIGHT! However, that is not your only concern. You should be anticipating what might fail first and when that might be.

If bad date data happens to reach your database, you have to react and fix it plus fix the problems it causes. In this case, you deal in the triage arena – full react mode, selecting the most critical business-damaging areas first. Here the speed of thought must be abrupt with rapid evaluations of acute situations. If triage teams were in the plan, you’d mobilize your staff or hire outside professionals to assist, or both. The assumption is there are resources available at this time.

How did this bad date data get into our database anyway? The inventory, analysis, remediation and testing were done and fully reviewed, individually and collectively.

Inventory and analysis methodologies are good points to begin transference entry assessments to reduce possible exposures. Generally when in these stages the focus is predominately elsewhere. Consider addressing [or re-addressing] this and on a more global basis. Widen the scope of the domains (during inventory/analysis/test groups) identifying all points of date data entry/exit that are searched during inventory/analysis to include all programs in the application in the system.

Electronic trading partners offer added exposures. Even EDI has no solid standard, but multiple choices. Add to that the option of full date expansion, encapsulation feeds, and windowing with differing pivot dates, either fixed or sliding.

The system-wide pivot value [year] for windowing is in a system value called Qcentury. Those that use windowing in their Year 2000 remediations should use the same values in Qcentury system wide. This avoids inadvertent mishaps in future modifications as change evolves. Creativity usually wins over short remembered standards.

There are some alternatives that examine the historical date data to project when a failure might occur. Call it a crystal ball into the future. One could take time to do this manually. However, this is not an efficient use of heuristic human skills. To say this another way, the process of tracking date data through time very much resembles tracking movement of ships, aircraft or "incoming missiles" on radar.

This implies the initial speed of thought has been transferred from the computer to the monitor and provides "early warnings" of precarious events. Moreover, this adds a process that is consistently repeatable for greater reliability. The Radar2000 product [from HAL North America, Markham, Ontario] does this and is on the market today.

Did you know how to solve the Rubic’s Cube puzzle in systematic repetition of process, or was it always a new adventure that seemed more like trial and error, and a relearning experience every time. What we did learn was how to learn. I’ve heard that the inventor of the Rubic’s Cube has a solution coming to the Year 2000 market soon. No surprise, there are many similarities between solving Year 2000 problems and solving the brainteaser.

By the way have you figured out how many cubes there are yet? I have two answers - both are equally correct. Please send me a note with your solutions

There were two young girls about the same age [7 or 8] from the same family who solved the Rubic’s Cube puzzle quite differently. One methodically worked the squares, turning and twisting until success. The other, a bit more creative or impatient, saw that the colors were merely pieces of thin plastic adhered with sticky glue. She quickly removed the sticky things and pasted them back in color order.

Conclusion

Validation and protection of your data is important. Inspect and re-inspect every entry and exit point very carefully. Provide for forecasting and continued monitoring.

Creativity, diligence and a methodical approach are some of the most valued attributes to be applied to a Year 2000 project.

Glenn Ericson is president and founder of Phoenix Consulting LLC, in East Elmhurst, N.Y. He specializes in Year 2000 and risk management issues. Glenn-Ericson@att.net.