Dynamic Chiropractic – November 30, 1998, Vol. 16, Issue 25

dynamicchiropractic.com >> Software / Hardware

The Millennium Bug: Raising Awareness

By Michael Devitt
Since running the first two parts of this series on the millennium bug (Jan. 1 and Feb. 23 issues of DC) we have received several e-mail messages from chiropractors and their patients voicing their opinions.
Some have offered thanks for making them aware of the problem and the possible side-effects it may have in the year 2000. Others have written to say that the millennium bug is a farce, and that I've created more harm than good by relaying information about it to the chiropractic profession.

If this series of articles has created some panic, I apologize. My intention was to inform the chiropractic profession about the problem, not cause people to pull money out of their banks in fear that their accounts won't exist next century. And I'm not saying that your computer is going to crash when the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Day just over a year from now.

The simple fact of the millennium bug is that if you've got one of the newer computer systems and the latest software, chances are you'll run into very few -- if any -- problems with your PC. Nevertheless, doesn't it make sense to be sure, while you've still got more than a year left and the programming fees for making software year-2000 compliant are relatively inexpensive?

Leading Banks Working Together

Let's take a look and see how the rest of the world is dealing with the millennium bug. This April, some the world's leading banks formed the Global 2000 Coordinating Group (G2)to combat the millennium bug. G2 will gather information on the readiness of nations, cities and companies to tackle the year 2000 problem.1

G2 will focus on certain crucial areas of the financial world: cash payment systems; securities clearance and custody systems; stock and bond futures; foreign exchange; and trading firms. A separate section of the group will cover the electrical, water and telecommunication utilities; transport; dealing and settlement organizations; and market data and financial service providers.

More than 285 of the world's largest banking firms have joined G2. Any bank may join the group. To see whether your bank is a member, contact your branch's bank manager. If your bank does not have any plans, mention the group. Raising awareness of the problem is one of the best things you can do.

Many Hospitals Trailing the Pack

A recent issue of Money magazine reported on a small computer network connecting three Pennsylvania hospitals and 75 surrounding clinics that provide care and treatment for tens of thousands of the state's residents. In April of 1997, a health care worker on that network entered an appointment for a patient for January 2000. The computer system didn't recognize that date; the system shut down and had to be reprogrammed.2

The computer network in Pennsylvania isn't an isolated case. The Florida Hospital Association reports that nearly two-thirds of the world's health care organizations have yet to address the issue and quotes the head of the Rx2000 Solutions Institute in Minneapolis saying health care trails other industries in this area; that most hospitals are far behind, if they've even made any effort at all to solve the problem.

The effect the millennium bug could have on the health care field is enormous. Any health care issue that is date-related -- prescription and refill dates, appointment schedules, employee and reimbursement checks, insurance policies, etc. -- are all subject to the problems that could occur in the year 2000. If you are a provider in a managed care organization, or if your billing, scheduling and accounting information is handled by an outside source, please contact them now and see what steps they have taken to ensure that they will be fully functional at the beginning of the millennium. By taking steps to protect yourself now, it could save you a lot of financial and emotional hardship in the future.

"We Have a Lot of Work to Do"

According to most reports, Canada is one of the best prepared nations to deal with the situation, with businesses and governments investing approximately $12 billion in hardware and software upgrades. Still, with less than 400 days to go before the end of the millennium, many doubts remain about the ability of the nation's more vital industries and services to function properly in the year 2000 and beyond.

Earlier this year, Ted Clark, the vice president of Ontario Hydro's year 2000 project, faced questioning before a Canadian Parliamentary committee. Asked about the readiness of Canada to combat the millennium bug, Clark said, "We have a lot of work to do ... I can't make you feel 100% confident that everything is going to function." Only about 40% of Ontario Hydro's most critical systems are year-2000 compliant, Clark estimated, even though the utility has been working on the problem since 1995.3

Industry committee member Eugene Bellemare was less than enthused with Clark's comments, and those from other leading Canadian business leaders. "You'll excuse me if I worry," said Bellemare, reminding many people of what could happen should Canada face such a computer problem in the middle of another severe winter. "I still see a big shudder as hospitals, traffic lights, gas stations all don't work and it's 20 below. It would be a hell of a mess and you can't guarantee that won't happen."

The problem appears just as bad in Asia, where only Singapore and Hong Kong appear to be adequately prepared for the new millennium. "Most of Asia is nowhere near ready," said Bob Hayward, vice president of the Gartner Research Group. "The less-developed computer user countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia will have major problems."4 One of the difficulties cited by the Gartner Group is that some Asian countries have employed their own calendars into their computer systems, which only adds to the problem of trying to reprogram and restore potentially millions of lines of date-sensitive computer code.

Japan does not appear to be dealing with problem seriously (if at all). A major problem facing Japanese businesses, according to Hayward, is that many still rely on old mainframe computers that have been in operation for more than two decades. He also notes a heavy use of in-house customized software in Japan which could require months of editing and reprogramming. He believes that only a very small percentage of Japanese companies will be year 2000 compliant by the turn of the century.

"Japan is obsessed with other problems right now," said Hawyard. "It (the millennium bug) is just not on their radar screens yet." If the Japanese continue to avoid the problem, it could spell dire financial and technological consequences, and not just for the Asian market.

Offering Solutions to a Growing Problem

As reported in the earlier parts of this series, there are dozens of links users can browse to find more information on the millennium bug and see if their system is year 2000 compliant. Among the better resources:

http://www.year2000.com is run by the Year 2000 Information Center and is probably the best site to start looking for information. It provides links to dozens of hardware and software vendors. This site contains an archives section, a user group section and an impressive press clippings section which offers links to the most recent news releases and articles about the millennium bug.

http://www.mitre.org/research/cots/COMPLIANCE_CAT.html is an online catalog from the Defense Information Systems Agency providing several commercial links and more information on the year 2000 problem.

http://www.itaa.org/yr2000bg.htm is an online document, "What Are You Waiting For? Start Preparing for Your Year 2000 Software Conversion Today." Created by the Information Technology Association of America, it's a great resource for small businesses considering how to go about their millennium bug plans. It gives a good description of the millennium bug, advises how to approach the problem and gives suggestions for picking software tools and service providers.

The General Services Administration is a great site (http://www.itpolicy.gsa.gov/mks/yr2000/y201toc1.htm) containing dozens of links to commercial and noncommercial Y2K sites and a decent collection of articles related to the problem.

A Final Word

For those of you who have written in asking questions and looking for information on how to protect themselves, I commend you for looking forward and doing what you can to ensure that you'll have as few computer problems as possible at the start of the next century.

For the people who insist that there is no millennium bug, that it's just some big marketing ploy created by a bunch of unemployed computer programmers to line their pockets, you can't say you haven't been warned. Whatever happens to computers is entirely up to the people who maintain them, including the possibility of it crashing when the new century begins, especially if preventive measures aren't taken.

There is still time to design a plan and make sure your computer system will be operational in the next century. The sooner you start working on a solution, the better (and less expensive) it will be.

If you have any questions about the millennium bug, or any other topics covered in this column, feel free to contact me by phone or e-mail.

References

  1. Banks join to fight Y2K bug. Reuters, April 8, 1998.

     

  2. Thompson BL. Hospitals trailing in Y2000 bug fix. Jacksonville Business Journal, February 23, 1998.

     

  3. Lewis M. Millennium bug is far from beaten: vital industries not at all certain disaster won't strike. Ottawa Citizen April 22, 1998.

     

  4. Hiscock G. 2000 bugs lurk in cracks all over Asia. The Australian April 24, 1998.

Michael Devitt
Huntington Beach, California
Tel: (714) 960-6577
Fax: (714) 536-1482
Editorial-DCMedia.com

 


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