On Air: Connecting Y2K to the World

In his television series "Connections," James Burke examined the innovations that shape our world. What impressed me most in his telling of history was the unintended consequences of inventions. Linen, invented as a less costly alternative to cotton, became the raw material for paper when cotton prices dropped. This was just in time for the invention of the printing press. All of a sudden, knowledge could be widely disseminated. This changed the world.

Over time, knowledge has been transferred to computer software, only to be placed at risk by a change in the century. This was set in motion in 46 B.C., when Julius Caesar established his calendar, leading to the Y2K projects of the late 1990s, the realization that old code never really dies, it just gets older and, perhaps, the dawn of the age of software asset management.

Of course, I’m speculating about the age of software asset management. That’s too much like closet cleaning to interest us. We’d rather write new software than take care of the old stuff.

As we complete our Y2K projects, we’re seeing pent up demand for new applications to leverage the Internet, and we’re headed back to the future again. Today’s Internet is itself an unintended consequence of a DARPA investment in a network with no center, so protected from nuclear attack. It’s changing our world.

The Internet is the new post office. It’s the new store with lower prices, the new bank with no branch offices, the new insurance company, and for some of us, the new remote control for our house.

What does this mean for your business? It means your customers can reach you directly. You can find new customers, integrate your company’s supply chain, increase efficiency and grow your market share.

Or it can enable new competition that wipes your company from the face of the earth. New companies largely escaped the cost of Y2K repairs. Are they the new winners?

Maybe Y2K is just nature’s way of telling us to tidy up. After 40 years of software proliferation, we needed someone to tell us to stop and take inventory, only to discover that really old code is still running every day – managing accounts, keeping the back office running and providing the infrastructure behind a lot of new interfaces.

Looking ahead, it’s easy to see the e-ification of software from e-commerce to e-banking to e-trading. Adding an "e-" to your company name could drive the stock price north. Failing to do so could take it south.

Does the push to extend our businesses across the Internet call for the installation of new systems or should we view it as an extension of existing software assets to give them new capabilities?

Not long ago, Charles Schwab was a new player in the brokerage business. Now, it’s an old player in electronic trading. They’re doing something right. Instead of treating the Internet as a threat to its business, Schwab developed Internet-based trading services that it now supports with its back office systems. While the new players invest in infrastructure, Schwab leverages its legacy systems.

One clear lesson of Y2K is that the IBM mainframe has not died yet. In fact, IBM now positions OS/390 as a platform for Web development. CICS and DB2 now provide Internet connectivity out of the box. Today’s CICS transactions are tomorrow’s Web objects. Today’s DB2 databases will work with server side Java code to supply data to catalogs and forms on the Web browser.

Is there long-term value in the investments we made to solve the Y2K problem? As consultants like to say, that depends. If you’re tired of the Y2K project, maybe you’d like to box it up and file it away, but this could be a big mistake. Your Y2K team has the documentation of the code that already works. It has experience with the tools you’ll need to manage change as we move forward. It’s working with the testing tools you’ll need. It has quality assurance processes that can help you prevent problems. It would be a mistake and a missed opportunity to discard the best practices developed to manage software assets through the Y2K effort.

The Y2K project has opened the kimono on your software assets. E-commerce will open it wider. To be successful on the Internet, you’ll need to meet and exceed the expectations of your customers and trading partners as they interact directly with your business over the Internet. If you don’t do it, somebody else will. Businesses that leverage their positions should win market share against new entrants. Businesses that can’t do so will be left behind.

About the Author: Bill Braasch is President and CEO of DBA Software (Emeryville, Calif.), which develops and markets products that manage knowledge and protect software assets. Bill is a member of ESJ’s Editorial Advisory Board and can be reached at bill@dbasoft.com.

On Air is an occasional forum for guest viewpoints on the latest technology trends and issues. If you want to be heard On Air, send your topic proposal to Editor in Chief Charlie Simpson at simpsoncm@esj.com.