Veni, Vidi, Vici

To paraphrase Bill Murray’s character in the movie Ghost Busters, "You came, you saw, you kicked butt." This is what you in IT did when faced with the Y2K threat.

So why are so many people in your organization still acting like you didn’t do your job? Let me explain, but first, let me do some boasting for you.

Earlier this year the Federal Aviation Administration worked with flight controllers and administrators at major airports to rigorously test the nation’s flight control system for Y2K compliance. The system passed the tests with flying colors. Rumors about some airlines grounding their fleets for the first week or so of 2000 are no longer rampant.

Other mission-critical federal systems, like social security and the IRS, attained Y2K compliance levels well into the 90 percent ranges -- that is, 90 percent of systems are compliant as opposed to specific systems only being 90 percent compliant. Our IT people in federal compliance units are so good that some of them are in Russia making sure their missiles don’t misfire due to a Y2K computer glitch.

One by one, the giant electric utilities tested their generation and distribution systems for compliance. They also passed without as much as a brownout. The Y2K advisor to Shell, the world’s largest energy company, was quoted last month saying, "The majority of the problem has been addressed" as Y2K relates to energy matters.

Banks insist ATMs will work just fine Jan.1, as will their other important operations. The company that processes more credit card transactions than any other in the world, First Data Corp., is so confident in their Y2K fixes that its president has said the only thing that could mess up his company’s work would be a power outage. Refer to the paragraph above for the likelihood of that happening.

The list of triumphs goes on and on. You fought those bugs on land, on sea and in air. You are victorious. This is truly IT’s finest hour. Or at least it should be.

The problem is that all your efforts, which beat back the Y2K threat in the U.S., have not deflated the latent fears the press and the Y2K consultants have created. Earlier this quarter, IBM lost $30 billion in market value in two days when it warned of Y2K fears biting into system purchases over the next six months. Some companies, for some reason, have stopped buying new systems and halted new application development.

When these companies come to their senses in six months or so, the same IT people who saved their firm’s bacon with their Y2K fixes will now face unprecedented pressure to catch up with competitors who moved forward with new systems development -- particularly e-commerce-related development.

In fact, some of the greatest strides in developing e-commerce architectures are being made by firms that are devising ways of getting mainframe-based data to employees via intranets and to suppliers and customers via extranets. They are taking human resources data sitting on IBM IMS systems and crafting graphical applications accessed by browsers. They are overhauling order entry systems by creating intelligent front ends that allow for nearly 100 percent self-service shopping, with the users never knowing the data is stodgy old mainframe stuff.

These forward-looking companies are doing lots of things, much of which involves augmenting investments in mainframe computing rather than cutting back. To this day mainframes remain the most reliable means to a highly reliable e-commerce system. Just ask eBay, whose repeated crashes of its Unix-based hardware nearly crashed the company last spring.

Major banks that have continued to invest in large systems, while simultaneously undertaking Y2K compliance work, will find themselves in the catbird seat when it comes to rolling out Internet banking service, which is slowly but steadily gaining momentum.

Your competitors are not cowering in fear of a threat that doesn’t exist anymore. One can’t blame IT when higher ups issue cease and desist orders with regards to new applications development. But even some casual reading will alert you to how your competitors are plowing ahead. These brave hearts include venerable names like Federal Express, CyberCash, CSX, and Delta. Personally, I’d hate to have to scale a mountain defended by companies like these.

On a final note, this will be my final column for ENT. I have greatly enjoyed my three-year run as back page columnist, having exchanged e-mail with literally hundreds of readers that have commented directly on my columns, for better or worse. I wish all of you the very best in this next 100 years! --Bill Laberis is president of Bill Laberis Associates Inc. (Holliston, Mass.) and former editor-in-chief of Computerworld. Contact him at bill@laberis.com.