guest commentary: Calm Before the Y2K Storm

It’s just too quiet out there on the Y2K front. The Federal Government has already done its assessment and has given most of its departments reasonably high marks. This seems to have quieted even the most outspoken y2k pioneer of the 90’s, Peter de Jager.

However, Ed Yardeni (,Chief Economist and Global Investment Strategist of Deutsche Bank Securities in New York, and a highly visible Y2K spokesman) is still predicting an economic crisis, though his message might as well be on radio-free-y2k. On his Web site Yardeni notes:

“The Year 2000 Problem (Y2K) is a very serious threat to the US economy. Indeed, it is bound to disrupt the entire global economy. If the disruptions are significant and widespread, then a global recession is likely. Currently, I believe there is a 70 percent chance of such a worldwide recession, which could last 12 months starting in January 2000 and could be as severe as the 1973-74 global recession.”

The Information Technology Association of America, (ITAA), the group which certified the AS/400 as being Y2K compliant, issued a press release on January 20 which clearly stated that, when in test mode, 71 percent of those responding to their survey noted they are finding failures associated with Y2K. Moreover, just when you thought it was safe, since you scrapped your old software and went with a compatible package, 28 percent noted that their stealthy new Y2K-ready software failed. Many AS/400 shops have not even tested their changes. If you have not advanced the date on the same or a separate system, you have not tested. Yardeni cannot understand the quiet or the optimism as he quips: “Never in human history have so many humans blindly trusted that so many other humans won’t screw up.”

Ed Yourdon, ( long time noted Computer Scientist, and a recognized IT Expert, has authored a number of Y2K books, including Time Bomb 2000 : What the Year 2000 Computer Crisis Means to You! Written along with his daughter Jennifer, who is an economist, the Yourdons explore the potential impact of the year 2000 on our lives, by examining its impact on various industries—transportation, utilities, banking, and government. They offer a number of detailed possible scenarios for each disaster, from the inconvenient—temporarily interrupted phone service—to the potentially catastrophic—wide-ranging economic collapse—and provide the corresponding recovery times for each scenario.

Somehow, even the experts don’t seen to know, including those at a York, PA nuke site who advanced the date on their monitoring system knowing all would be well. They knew the monitor system was not Y2K compatible but nothing was date sensitive so they did not have to worry. But they thought they’d give it a little test anyway. The machine fried so quickly and switched to their backup that they thought the date command had been ignored or done improperly. In a move that makes Homer Simpson look like a genius, they advanced the date a second time and fried the backup system. These are smart people. Yet they put a nuke facility in harm’s way. It took about seven hours to come back up. Hopefully they set the date to 1972 when they finally got it back.

Despite not playing to universal acclaim, Ed Yourdon has learned as a computer practitioner that conservative estimates are more achievable than those which are optimistic. He continues to stay the course. Even he hopes he is wrong. His most recent work involves the tragedy in Kosovo, and NATO expectations, and what they actually found. In many ways, this says the same thing as Yardeni’s quip above: “Who are these experts and why should we believe them.”

Yourdon states, “It was my wife who made the connection... about the awful television images we had watched earlier in the day, with thousands of desperate, homeless peasants streaming across the border, carrying nothing but the clothes on their backs.” His wife said to him, “If the best strategic planners of the United States and 18 other NATO countries were unable to predict what would happen when they started bombing, why on earth would you believe they’ll be able to predict the consequences of Y2K?” Why indeed? It was an excellent question, and I’ve been mulling it over ever since.”

How do we know our business systems will really be ok? And how do we know the supply chain and all those with whom we must interact with will be ok? At least we can spend some money to test our business systems. But what about our suppliers and our customers?

Peter de Jager ( a Y2K pioneer and international expert who is starting to get optimistic. Over the past 8 years, de Jager has been active in bringing the Year 2000 problem to the awareness of both the IS community and the business world at large. He is perceived by many to be the worldwide leader in creating awareness for the Year 2000 Computer Crisis. He is well published on Y2K , including the ground breaking Doomsday 2000 article, published in Computerworld Sept. 6th 1993. He is also co-author of the book “Managing 00” with Richard Bergeon, recently reprinted as “Countdown Y2K.”

In many ways, de Jager’s original goals have been accomplished, since he has always promotes awareness. He sees the President’s declarations. He sees the bureaucrats stepping in line. He sees lots of action in the corporate world. Rightfully so, he believes much of the awareness he was seeking is out there already. Thus, de Jager is not quite as pushy as he once was. He has a section of his Web site dedicated for companies who believe they are in compliance. He calls it “Promises Kept.” Compared to his once bombastic self, he has become a milquetoast regarding awareness.

From my eyes, I would like to see him come alive again regarding action, or inaction. Though most businesses are aware that it can be a serious problem, there is a sense of aloofness, a reluctance to engage in the fix, almost a desperate hoping, or an inner denial. Mariners know that just because the sea is calm, the dark ominous cloud on the horizon can not be ignored. This is the attitude that needs to be taken concerning Y2K batten down the hatches before the big wave hitsbut don’t wait too long, because it is coming even though the seas are calm right now.