Countdown to Year 2000: Ride the Comet's Tail

A Y2K guru I recently spoke with likened Y2K to a comet with "a long tail," an analogy that seems fitting. IT managers can either ride this comet -- and blaze into new initiatives, such as e-commerce, e-business or ERP -- or get scorched -- depending on how they leverage their hard-won management resources and skills. Either way, Y2K’s legacy will extend well into the next few years, as managers continue mop-up work, as well as deal with a string of new "megaprojects."

Many new initiatives will be unleashed with the pent-up demand that follows the anticipated lock-out of new application deployment later this year. As one expert put it: "I don’t think there’s a CIO who will ever come up for air again."

The good news is that while some shops are simply taking a one-time Y2K hit on their finances and resources, Y2K has fueled a management revolution in others. Never before has so much legacy code been brought into the light of day and examined. An entire industry has pulled together in a focused and concerted effort. IT managers and their employers, faced with a talent crunch exacerbated by Y2K, have also developed a keen sensitivity to effective human resource practices. An entire industry has sprung up, providing a powerful array of tools for assessing code, re-engineering applications and data and change management.

Server consolidation is occurring on a widespread basis this year and next. The post-Y2K world will be narrowed down to four primary platforms -- OS/390, OS/400, UNIX and Windows NT. With so much re-engineering underway, the System/390 is assuming a new role as center of the networked enterprise.

Many IT organizations may never be the same. Recent surveys by the Society for Information Management Year 2000 Working Group are showing improvements in IS development and management practices as a result of Y2K projects. As a direct result of Y2K, there has been a rise in standardization, good quality practices and independent verification and validation. The testing infrastructure developed for Year 2000 -- useful in simulating changed code -- may live on as a quality assurance mechanism for new projects.

Many organizations have had to open up their communications processes and seek input regarding IT strategies. Employees, customers, suppliers and everyone else have been brought into the process. Another advantage incurred from Y2K efforts is a more accurate picture and methodology for tracking IT assets, particularly in distributed environments. "This was the first time many of us understood what’s in this legacy code, and what we’re actually running," says Carl Greiner, Vice President of Meta Group (Stamford, Conn.). "We don’t want to lose this knowledge and information."

In many cases, outsourcing firms have been handling the code, and can play a helpful role in new initiatives, he states. "These vendors may know more about your systems than you do at this point. Use them, don’t throw them away." The learning curve that IT departments have undergone in recent times is what Greiner calls the "Humpty-Dumpty model," where IT staffs have taken entire systems apart, and learned how to put them together again.

Perhaps the most beneficial byproduct of Y2K has been the formation of the Y2K project office. This office – well acquainted with the methodology for bringing massive resources to bear on Year 2000 and other IT challenges -- will have a life beyond Y2K. The office has the ability to oversee non-Y2K enterprisewide mass change, such as implementing ERP or e-commerce. The Y2K project office -- which crosses departmental boundaries to get jobs done -- provides the infrastructure that can deal with future mass-scale IT initiatives.

While many Y2K project offices are wrestling with missed deadlines and convoluted supply chain issues, many are already looking beyond Year 2000. The "system repository knowledgebases" created by these offices will serve as roadmaps to drive the continued re-engineering of legacy applications, Greiner predicts. For example, one major trucking company is using its Y2K program office to leverage its Y2K work with a host of new initiatives, to cross over department lines to analyze, create and implement solutions. "We’re not treating Y2K as just another project," says the company’s CIO. "It’s a challenge we’re using as an opportunity to improve our systems to serve our customers." To this end, the company is replacing older systems with new Y2K-compliant systems enabling EDI, Internet and customer service reporting processes.

In many organizations, the IT manager is going to be looked at as a hero for wrestling the Y2K monster to the ground. However, it’s not time to rest on your laurels, experts agree. Companies will value the skills of a general manager that can manage both technical and business issues. The heroes and heroines of Y2K program offices are going to be sought after as a new cadre of exceptional managers.

About the Author: Joseph McKendrick is a reserch consultant and author, whose firm, McKendrick & Associates (Doylestown, Pa.), specializes in surveys, research and white papers for the industry. He can be reached at