Analysis: Year 2000--Disaster or Opportunity?

By Mark Buchner

The Year 2000 transition can be seen as either an opportunity or a disaster. If viewed as a disaster, companies will see it merely as an unproductive but necessary expense. Many companies looking past the short-term problem associated with the "Millennium Bug" itself, however, are beginning to see longer-term opportunities and ways to leverage their investments in Year 2000. They understand how serious and business-critical their IT systems are and are beginning to care more about their architecture and the tools they choose.

Consider how the following aspects of the Year 2000 project might be opportunities.

For some companies, the Y2K inventory and assessment activities may be the most comprehensive technical examination of their enterprise IT assets that's been done in some time. Expensive and exasperating as it is, the initial work developing the inventory, the business impact assessment and the overall Year 2000 strategy and plan certainly improved the understanding of IT costs and asset deployment. By removing old or little used assets, the resulting cleaner inventories reduce ongoing maintenance costs.

Replacements and upgrades installed as part of the Year 2000 strategy provide immediate benefits such as performance gains that increase customer responsiveness and the ability to meet information needs, which in turn becomes a competitive advantage. Longer term, these infrastructure upgrades provide additional headroom to support growth in business volumes or to implement new strategic applications, such as data warehousing and Business Intelligence (BI) applications, or e-business and e-commerce applications.

Going forward, regression test beds, test procedures, test tools and test platforms are all reusable for new development. The contingency planning exercise will have improved understanding of business priorities and the resulting plans and procedures for business recovery are reusable in the future.

We've significantly improved the availability of key skills. Post-2000 we'll have developed a pool of in-house workers with recent project management experience, ready and eager to get on with new development projects and outside sources of known and capable vendors and contractors. Year 2000 project offices, set up to help manage enterprisewide activity, could have life beyond Year 2000 in support of other major strategic initiatives.

The Client Environment: Profile of an Opportunity
In order to understand this opportunity better, consider a typical (but fictitious) client environment. At the highest level, one might categorize current systems into the following types:
1. Batch Processing -- often associated with bulk overnight processing including production of regular business reports.
2. Distributed Processing -- which provides local capability for geographically dispersed plants or branches.
3. Online Transaction Processing (OLTP) -- the main transaction interface between the client business and its customers.
4. Data Acquisition -- specialized data collection devices (e.g. Point-of-Sale terminals or Warehouse UPC scanners, etc.) for either or both transaction or reporting purposes.
5. Development, Operations and System Management -- internal IT systems for the development, maintenance and delivery support of other systems.
6. Desktops -- usually PC-based, which provide local productivity tools (e.g. spreadsheets) which may also be used to further manipulate data for various reporting purposes.

Imagine now that you'd like to initiate a corporatewide strategic BI solution. The first task at hand is to understand the number, types, locations and purposes of the various databases supporting the environment described above.

Tell me again why we have multiple vendor master files? Was it because we developed different business systems requiring slightly different vendor information in isolation from each other or on different technologies? Look at how complex our enterprisewide customer information file implementation turned out to be. To get a complete customer profile, we require different pieces of customer information from a variety of different and disparate systems. To standardize and centralize corporate financial information, we have to gather data from mainframes, and from distributed and departmental systems (the controller's spreadsheets!)

Maybe you implemented (at some significant investment in cost and time) an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system just for that very purpose -- to consolidate your corporate data into one homogeneous environment and to standardize various business processes. Now the task is trying to understand the location and purpose of the various components of the ERP system so you can implement a BI solution.

Regardless of the specifics of your environment, this first task -- understanding the number, types, locations and purposes of existing databases -- can be daunting. Did you know, however, that you may already have much of this information in the form of your Year 2000 Inventory, and further that the information may even be current and accurate?

The Year 2000 Inventory may be even more valuable as a general source of IT environment metrics information. Suppose you want to evaluate whether to buy-or-build a replacement application, or, whether you should de-couple and outsource specific applications. Information to help answer these questions may already exist in the Year 2000 Inventory.

Alternatively, imagine that you want to build supply-chain linkages to specific important suppliers or embark on a strategic e-business initiative with an important customer. You'll need to understand detailed technical information about your existing external interfaces. Once again, this information may already exist in the Year 2000 Inventory.

Yet another initiative might arise from the desire to standardize on specific systems management tools. The question is: "What tools are already in use in what locations and what network capability already exists to support them?" The answer may be in your Year 2000 Inventory.

To embark on any significant enterprisewide post-2000 strategic initiative, you'll need available and motivated staff and project managers, potential outside consultants or vendors, increased development and processing capacity and perhaps some level of executive oversight. All these intangible resources and capabilities may exist in the form of a Year 2000 Project nearing completion. If you act quickly, it may be possible and even desirable to co-opt them in the interest of moving on quickly to the next major IT challenge.