When most people see a bug, they kill it. But what if the bug was inside your computer?

Stomping the Year 2000 (Y2K) bug is easier said than done. The problem is timely and costly to fix. And the result could have a huge impact on everything from the stock market to your bank account. More importantly, it will have an effect on what most PM readers routinely rely on — everyday data such as invoice records — if you don’t act now. Fortunately, some people are starting to take care of the matter.

A PM poll on our Web site asked, “What are you doing about the Year 2000 problem?” The results (not adding up to 100 percent due to rounding) were:

  • 32 percent said they have taken steps to evaluate their computer programs.
  • 7 percent said they have retained a consultant to look into it.
  • 20 percent said they intended to replace their systems prior to 2000.
  • 30 percent said their Macintosh computers are fairly new and have nothing to worry about.
  • 10 percent said they haven’t done anything because they didn’t know what the Y2K bug was.

What Is The Y2K Bug?

Most, if not all, computer programs and software keep track of the date. The year to date can be typed in as two digits, “98,” or four, “1998.” The problem lies within those computers that only record the date in two digits. When Jan. 1, 2000 comes, the computer will automatically process the date as “00,” and think it is the year 1900. This could cause errors in programs, ranging from wrong calculations to complete shutdowns. The effects could be disastrous.

In other words, everything you had on your computer records for your business would be lost. Financial records would turn to negative numbers. Your computer wouldn’t know how to process them, resulting in a crash. Expiration dates of products on your invoices would be wrong. It would be complete chaos. You would no longer be able to track anything beyond 1999 for your business or personal use, such as your banking, mortgages and bill payments. You may not even have the electricity to turn your computer on, because utility companies would crash.

Why Is This Happening?

The problem started back in the 1960s when computer memory was being developed. Costs and processing capacity were limited, so saving space with just two digits helped a vast amount. But now we are going to pay for it.

Is It Really A Big Deal?

Some take the Y2K problem more seriously than others. Some think, “Oh, it won’t affect me, so why worry.” But according to Dan Restivo, vice president of sales at Intac International Inc. — makers of Wintac software — the Y2K bug can result in serious consequences for the heating and contracting industry.

“If your system is not 2000 compliant, you’ve got a bomb in your hands,” says Restivo.

According to Restivo, this industry relies a great deal on tracking data. Contractors track products, expiration dates, order forms, pay roll, equipment invoices, service agreements, accounting and just about everything else you do within your company. If you have a non-compliant software package, and the year 2000 comes around, your business will come to a screeching halt, says Restivo.

Joel Holst, marketing representative at Austin, Tex.-based Service First, a PHC software designer, agrees. Most businesses use accounting software to manage their companies. Without updating their systems before the year 2000, they would lose all of their financials, and the effects would be devastating, Holst says.

What Can You Do?

Mike Lips, director of year 2000 services at Platinum Technology, says to follow a three step approach — define the problem, fix it and then test it. If you know your computer system and software is not compliant, it is key that you make sure to address the issue before you do anything else, or let any more time pass by. If you don’t do anything by the end of this year, there won’t be enough time left to fix your system and replace the software before it crashes. Here are what some experts say you can do:
  • Call a computer expert, or the vendor of your software. Find out what software and programs have and have not been updated. It is a good idea to make sure your vendor puts it in writing, verifying their software is Y2K compliant, says Holst. Even though most of the new systems are compliant, your newly bought software could still have been developed in the 1980s, using only the two-digit date tracking system.

    Software that has been updated specifically for the Y2K problem is available, ranging from financial records programs to invoice tracking. Some are even sold in special packages developed just for your type of system.

    And most software that a company buys from a vendor will be Y2K compliant. If it isn’t, they are most likely working on an updated version and will have one in time, says Holst.

  • Check your computer manually, simulating the year before it gets here. Holst says it’s a good idea to make a copy of your existing software, making sure you have copied only one station of the network, and put it on your hard drive. Forward the clock to the year 2000. If your system crashes, you know you’re in trouble.
  • Communicate with other people involved in your business to make sure the information they have on you will be secured. Companies such as insurances, banks, stock holders and suppliers hold valuable information on your business. If their systems aren’t compliant with the Y2K problem, your company can be in big trouble.
  • Get on the Internet. Web sites like www.microsoft.com, www.cnn.com and www.year2000.com all give links and information on the issue. There have also been books published about the Y2K bug.
  • Kill the bug now, while you still can.

What's The Rush?

Whatever you decide to do, time is running out. Updated software takes time to develop. The demand for consultants and software vendors is on the rise, and their availability is lingering.

According to Holst, his professional consultant said right now, we’re still 40 percent of where we should be in making all software and computer systems Y2K compliant. He said even if the United States starting putting all of their resources and money into this problem Jan. 1, 1997 we would still just barely meet the window in the year 2000. Are you prepared?