Frankly speaking: New Fears Day

If you're reading this, systems survived Y2K zero hour well enough to bring it to you - so what next for IT?

What are the problems that’ll dominate IT in the coming year?

Ready for 2000? If you’re reading this, printing presses, airplanes and postal carriers — or at least the Internet — survived Y2K zero hour well enough to get Computerworld to you. But if Y2K was our No. 1 problem for 1999, what’s the issue that will dominate corporate IT in the coming year?

Lawyers.

Doesn’t sound like an IT issue, does it? Oh, but it is. Think you’ve already wasted huge amounts of time on unnecessary Y2K paperwork? Wait till your legal department starts filing Y2K lawsuits. Corporate IT is the star witness here, bunky. Better be sure your Y2K and software development managers are in on this from Day One. Your first assignment: estimating the cost of gathering the necessary documentation to support the lawsuits — and whether that documentation even exists.

But it doesn’t stop there. You’ll be running more software contracts than ever past Legal, as states pass UCITA, the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act. That’s the one making shrinkwrap licenses binding — which means everything you install needs custom negotiation.

If orders come down for you to snoop on user files, e-mail or Internet activity, run, don’t walk, to your legal eagles. Get clearance in writing, or both you and your company could end up in court. And get explicit written orders before monkeying with any transaction data at an executive’s request “just to make the numbers cleaner” for a quarterly report. In a shareholder lawsuit, your head will roll.

Outside the IT shop, lawyers for Microsoft will battle valiantly to keep the company from being broken up. But the bigger fight will eventually be a huge class-action suit claiming that Microsoft overcharged for Windows. Think it won’t touch IT? If Microsoft gets hit for a huge payout, the payees will be Microsoft’s customers — that’s us.

And you can expect more lawsuits against enterprise software vendors and consultants. It won’t be pretty for plaintiffs, and lots of suits will be settled quickly. But expect at least one big consulting firm to take a hard hit in court this year for ERP work that just didn’t measure up to its promises.

Other big IT issues for 2000? For Windows 2000 and Linux, the motto at most IT shops will be “you go first.” Y2K won’t go away — we’ll still be putting out ever-smaller fires a year from now. Watch out for a new problem: IT shops that used windowing as a stopgap measure and now can’t get the budget for a permanent Y2K fix. And 2000 will be the year some companies decide to try cutting e-commerce costs, which will raise the pressure on IT to deliver clean, working e-commerce systems that sell the goods.

Road computing gets serious this year as wireless handhelds hit the mainstream for outside salespeople. They’ll want data in real time to close the deal. Better pray your ERP vendor comes up with a Palm interface — and fast.

PCs will get cheaper, but don’t count on slashing your desktop hardware budget yet. Flat-panel displays should be your next target. Users love ’em, but they’re not just status symbols — they’re also ergonomically better than CRTs and give users their desks back to boot.

Mini-outsourcing will make small projects cost effective to outsource in 2000. Brokers will handle everything, including project management, so you don’t have to. And software vendors are rewriting their applications to be more rental-friendly, so that could finally kick in this year.

Finally, plan on daily antivirus updates for your firewall. It’s an ugly world out there. But, hey, maybe by the end of 2000 we’ll be hit by a virus-writing hacker rich enough that it’s finally worth feeding him to — who else? — the lawyers.

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