An eleventh-hour survey indicates a high level of confidence in year-2000 preparedness as companies reflect on what will happen and whether the heavy remediation investment was worth it. With final preparations under way and the extended countdown begun, attention is being focused on the organizations at ground zero: professional services companies.
Overall, businesses are increasingly confident as they eye the millennial transition, according to a recent poll by IT consulting giant Cap Gemini America.
The New York-based services firm yesterday released the results of its latest survey, which shows corporate America to be increasingly upbeat about the date change.
Next to the companies that produced the systems and software that wound up date-challenged, professional services companies are probably the most closely associated with the year-2000 phenomenon.
From general advice on dealing with the date change to remediation and problem tracking, services companies are inextricably linked to the year-2000 dilemma.
While the majority of critical systems have been remediated, concern naturally centers on the effects of noncompliant systems.
The survey results include a jump from 82% to 87% of respondents expressing confidence that their businesses will not be put at risk by their noncompliant systems.
Also since the previous survey, taken in September, the%age of respondents seeing their uncorrected systems posing major risk dropped from 12% to 7%, with 6% still undecided, according to Cap Gemini officials.
Up from the previous survey is the portion of the sample who expect all critical systems to be compliant and tested, increasing from 56% to 63%.
Similarly, fewer see the need to brace for a temporary shutdown, 28% vs. 33% in September.
Overall, fewer said they expect failures, with 84% forecasting failures vs. September's 99%.
"Most clients finished their work a while back. In our recent surveys, they're showing more confidence than in the past that they're going to be ready," said Noah Ross, vice president of TransMillennium services at Cap Gemini.
Cap Gemini has handled year-2000 projects for mostly corporate customers, at which much of the date-sensitive code was mainframe-based.
Apart from liability, one of the key concerns for professional services companies has been the uncertainty of staffing demand -- both their internal personnel requirements and the ranks of workers deployed at customer sites and on-call.
Since estimates of the type and degree of year-2000 problems vary so widely, professional services companies have little solid information to go on in planning their rosters for the New Year's period.
"They have to be ready for the unknown, which means they're going to overstaff, and have a bunch of employees ruining their holiday and weekend," said John Ganz, an analyst at International Data Corp. (IDC), a market research firm in Framingham, Massachusetts.
Although a minority of Cap Gemini staff, no more than 20%, worked directly on year-2000 projects, most of the company will be on call to some extent, according to Ross.
"Just about everybody in the company, especially in the Y2K area, is on call, or available. We're hoping for quiet weekend and month of January. Our expectation is that most of the incidents that do arise will be handled by the customers," Ross said.
While Ross stressed that customers have their own command centers and support staff, he noted that Cap Gemini's workforce will be available.
"Our call center will be staffed throughout. We expect that incidents will crop up, not just over the millennial weekend, but throughout January and later," Ross said. "We're just trying to be as prepared as possible, but we don't expect a lot of calls, because the first line of defense will be our clients, themselves."
Another challenge facing services companies, and their customers will be the difficulty of tracking the global situation in anything approximating real-time, IDC's Ganz added.
"Even many of the multinationals are not horribly well prepared with their command centers. Finding out what's happening is going to be tough, so it could take a while for them to get visibility into problems and to decide what needs to be done," Ganz said.
In light of some of the eleventh-hour questions cropping up about the value of the huge sums invested in year-2000 preparedness, Ross countered that those close to the projects recognize their worth.
"The people involved in this realize the value of what's being done. They've seen real problems crop up and real fixes made," Ross said. "However, should things go very smoothly, and we hope they do, inevitably people will say, 'Oh, gee we got ready for hurricane, and nothing happened.'"
Nonetheless, the question is likely to be raised, according to IDC's Ganz.
"There could to be a question of whether it's been worth it. The best thing for those companies would be if the countries that are less prepared have lots of problems and those that are well prepared don't, so the preparations will seem worth it," Ganz said.
While people tend to focus on dramatic disaster scenarios involving air traffic control systems and elevators, Cap Gemini's Ross noted that the long-term impact is more likely to come in the form of routine business applications.
"People should keep an eye on their transaction cycle processing. We've been looking at people's code for a while and problems can arise, especially when applications look at dates and make comparisons, year to year. They should make sure that they have paper copies," Ross said.
Cap Gemini Group, in New York, is at http://www.capgemini.com/.