article

Don’t Overlook Non-IS Systems in Y2K Planning

Posted: 12/1998

Opcenter

Don’t Overlook Non-IS Systems in Y2K Planning
By Jim Marsh

Got Y2K covered? Don’t congratulate yourself too soon. There may be a whole
world of strategic, but noncritical back-office applications you haven’t even considered.

Two little numbers! "00." They are causing massive headaches for the world’s
information technologists. When computer memory was expensive, it was decided to use only
the last two digits of the year, freeing up millions of data bytes for "more
important" information. At the time, the common belief among the computer elite was
all computer programs using the two-digit year would be rewritten long before the year
2000 (Y2K) rolled around. But, they were not, and the two-digit year became a de facto
standard used in most all software applications.

As 2000 approached, the faint memory of systems with two-digit years was remembered
with a jolt. Some packaged-goods companies began using "00" as expiration dates
on newly made food products. Imagine their surprise when their inventory management
systems requested all products with "old" dates be pulled and destroyed. These
systems considered dates of "00" old–as in 1900. In addition, consumers issued
new credit cards expiring in the year "00" suddenly found they could not make
purchases. Instances such as these alerted many companies, which used future dating as
part of their business and their software applications, to the Y2K problem.

In the telephony world, dates are used in many applications, such as the date- and
time-stamp on call records, routing for inbound calls, billing of customer accounts and
the collection treatments of the delinquent customers. Systems in which these dates are
used widely are viewed as the responsibility of the corporate management information
systems (MIS) department. After all, they are responsible for making sure all the
information systems used by the company are reviewed for possible Y2K problems and
corrected accordingly.

Customer information, accounting, provisioning, financial reporting, order processing,
human resources, billing, network management, collections, fraud, marketing, trouble
management–each of these systems falls under the corporate information technology (IT)
support structure and should already have been evaluated and well on the way to Y2K
compliance. If they are not, duck, cover and sell your stock as the road ahead will be
rough.

Got it covered? Don’t congratulate yourself too soon. There may be a whole world of
strategic, but noncritical back-office applications you haven’t even considered.

What about the different reports you use to make management decisions? What about the
time your extremely bright protigi whipped up a new application that saved countless
hours of reviewing those reports from corporate IT? Or those personal computers (PCs) your
team uses to generate monthly reports for the boss? Or, more important, the unique billing
applications that generate real revenue, done on departmentally supported local area
networks (LANs)?

Do you see a possible problem here? If you don’t, look again. The corporate IT group
may not support all those applications you use in managing and supporting your work
efforts. If that does not scare you, it should. In many cases, the functions supported by
the back office in supposedly noncritical areas do have a large revenue impact if the
company does not perform properly. If you have or your department has created reports or
applications outside of the corporate IT groups, you need to follow the same process they
do.

Awareness

You must understand the issues and the impact of the Y2K to your environment. There are
several areas to consider. First, there is the equipment used in the day-to-day
performance of your duties, such as PCs, fax machines, private branch exchanges (PBXs),
voice response units (VRUs) and even telephones that may not work come Jan. 1, 2000. In
fact, most any type of office equipment that either has a date or uses a computer chip can
be suspect.

Second, some home-grown systems applications that have become standard operating
procedure for managing and reporting, such as that critical billing database, telco
spreadsheet or even pirated software, no longer will be supported. Third, servers or LANs
may not be supported by the MIS department. Many corporate departments have brought in
their own expert or consultant to set up a LAN or server application for sharing data
because the corporate MIS department wasn’t able to meet the time frame required.
Therefore, the department has its own guru who is so busy working new and important
requests that even if the thought of the impact of Y2K entered his or her mind, the
workload is such that the guru has had to put it off until "later."
Unfortunately, later has come.

Inventory

The next step to accomplish in attacking the Y2K issue is to perform a detailed
departmental inventory. Each and every department in the company should complete this
function. The inventory would be of all system inputs and outputs, all homegrown
processing, reporting and management applications, all departmentally owned and maintained
equipment and all supplier and vendor relationships. This is a task that should be
undertaken on a regular basis regardless of the Y2K issue.

As you inventory each departmental function and break down every system used, include
corporate MIS as well as systems created by your department or others. Inventory both what
information you obtain or deliver from these systems and in what format as well as what is
done with the information. Make sure you inventory activities that result in delivery of a
product or service to a customer and list what you receive from vendors and the vendor
itself.

Create an inventory of every piece of equipment within the department. List the vendor,
the make and the model. Most electronic equipment today contains embedded chips that
provide control or functionality and that may be affected by the millennium change.

Evaluation

Once the inventory of systems, equipment, vendors and suppliers is complete, the
evaluation of the severity of the Y2K exposure must be undertaken. First, a compilation of
all departmental inventories must be done. This identifies commonalties, which transcend
departmental lines and provide a method to track exposures and identify where affected
items reside.

Evaluation requires a detailed review of each system application to identify
date-calculation issues or needs to expand date parameters. Each exposure identified needs
to be sized as to its impact to the business. Can you do without the application? If the
answer is "no," then determine the anticipated time and cost to correct the
application.

Similarly, all equipment must be verified through its manufacturer as to its ability to
handle the Y2K problem. Any equipment identified as not able to accommodate 2000 must be
evaluated by its need to the department or to the company.

If you are a supplier of equipment and services, especially if you are a third-party
supplier, you have an even more important evaluation to consider. Telecommunications
companies often supply switches, routes, multiplexers and other equipment to their
customers. If your company provides this level of service, the evaluation stage takes on a
different level of risk. If you supply and maintain equipment that is not Y2K-compliant,
you place your company at risk of litigation if the equipment fails to perform.

Remediation/Replacement

Once you have identified the areas of exposure, you must approach a solution like a
triage unit–the most needed systems get attention first. Focus on the applications,
equipment and processes that will cost the most in terms of lost revenue, lost
functionality or other exposure, such as litigation or lost reputation.

Plans must be implemented to correct or replace affected items. If the time and costs
are too extensive, alternative methods of performing the tasks must be created and placed
into a schedule. Just as the corporate IT groups have scheduled the changes to the
corporate systems, the same must be done in the back-office "noncritical" areas.
Priority should be given to those items that span multiple departments. These items
require close interaction among the affected departments to assure they are handled in a
similar manner.

Testing

Don’t forget to test. If you are replacing or correcting an application, be sure to
test the application thoroughly. If you have departmentally owned LANs, work with the
corporate IT personnel to ensure proper testing is done. They will have test plans to work
with. If you are providing an output to a customer, such as a billing feed, test its
creation, delivery and receipt with the customer, whether internal or external. As a
vendor, you have the responsibility to ensure that your customer has no interruption in
service.

Communication

Do not forget to communicate. The back-office departments normally are the last to hear
about or understand the impact of the Y2K problem. Although a dedicated team of
professionals can be assigned the effort of inventory, evaluation and remediation and
testing, using both the existing IT staff who have Y2K knowledge of processes and
procedures and departmental staff to speed the inventory and evaluation phases can move
the remediation and replacement phases into high gear.

Communicate across the organization as to what needs to be done regarding Y2K, how it
is done and where you are in the process. This provides the knowledge and gathers the
personnel to attack this time-sensitive problem. In addition, proper communication and
demonstration of commitment can go a long way toward stifling any future litigation
attempts. Communication and focus can eliminate your company’s possibility of becoming the
weak link in the telecommunications chain.

Finally, there is a benefit of focusing all departments on the Y2K problem. The simple
act of creating an inventory of functions and processes will have an impact on how the
departments function. There is a good possibility that inadequate processes or unneeded
reporting functions will be identified and eliminated for improved efficiencies overall.
The communication between departments can be enhanced, as there is a common objective to
correct now, and the need to work together will bring additional benefit. As with all
business functions, the continued need to improve the business is a foundation we all work
toward.

Jim Marsh is a senior consultant with The Management Network Group Inc., Overland
Park, Kan., a consulting firm to all segments of the telecommunications industry. He can
be reached by phone at +1 913 345 9315, or e-mail at TMNGRPN@aol.com.

Telecom and Y2K: A Status Report
By Carol L. Bowers

With a mere 12 months to go until Jan. 1, 2000, and the
belated sharing of information in late 1998, most companies still will be in the testing
mode on resolving the year 2000, or Y2K, glitch this year.

"It’s remarkable to me that more companies aren’t farther along," says Susan
Weese, managing director of Data Dimensions Inc., a process consulting firm that has been
working with companies on Y2K since 1993. "A little more fear would be good."

The General Accounting Office (GAO) certainly thinks so. The GAO has been sounding the
alarm for months, but getting little attention, except from members of Congress conducting
oversight hearings.

"The consequences of not resolving Year 2000 problems in the telecommunications
infrastructure are broad-based and potentially disastrous," Joel Willemssen, director
of Civil Agencies Information Systems in the GAO’s Accounting and Information Division,
told members of the House Subcommittee on Oversight. "International voice and data
services would be disrupted. Financial institutions and brokerages would be unable to
process financial transactions and trades. Telecommunications problems can affect
virtually all network components–switches, routers, public branch exchanges (PBXs) and
Internet servers."

According to the GAO, which surveyed the top 12 local and long distance carriers, most
of the companies expect to achieve Y2K compliance no later than December 1999. The
exceptions are WorldCom Inc., which told the GAO its network services and support services
would be compliant by April 1999; US WEST Inc., which plans to have its network services
and support services compliant by June 1999; and Bell Atlantic Corp., which plans to have
its network services Y2K- compliant by July 1999.

"The telecommunications industry faces a massive challenge to make sure that it
can finish the Year 2000 job in time," Willemssen says.

To date, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has maintained an advisory role,
which Weese and the GAO have criticized. "They’re watching," Weese says.
"And watching at this point isn’t necessarily helping."

Paul Jackson, special assistant to FCC Commissioner Michael Powell, acknowledges that
the agency has assumed an untraditional role for two very good reasons. The first is the
litigation factor. "The commissioners vote on something, it usually comes back with a
request for reconsideration and then it ends up in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for
the District of Columbia anyway. With this problem, you really don’t have time to get
stuck in a bitter litigation fight. So we’ve taken a nontraditional approach in engaging
the various players," he says.

Jackson also points out that unlike the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which
employs auditors, the FCC is an economic regulatory agency.

"Look at GTE Corp., which has 21.5 million switch lines in the United States
alone, 650 different unique systems worldwide representing 150 million lines of computer
code–and here’s the kicker for me–2,400 central office (CO) switches in 28 states. We’d
have to send every person out of the commission on one day to go out and hit GTE to see if
all its switches are ready."

Instead, he says the FCC has encouraged companies to participate in a dialogue about
the problem. So far, the agency seems satisfied. "A lot has been done by the
industries themselves," Jackson says. "In the wireline industry, the top 20
carriers who control more than 90 percent of the access lines are making good progress
with respect to inventory assessment and have the intention of testing through most of
1999."


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