At 10 in the morning on New Year's Eve, year 2000 will begin for Prudential Insurance of America. That's when it's eastern-most installation -- in Japan -- moves into the millennium, and the Japanese experience will feed directly into the $27 billion company's Global Command Center (GCC).
The GCC is a single huge room fitted with a half-dozen rows of sexy, black, flat-screen monitors sitting on long communal desks, facing three huge wall-mounted video screens that show the status of the mainframe and network environments.
The look and feel of the GCC is very much like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, but vice president and Y2K manager Irene Dec jokes that her Captain Kirk chair hasn't arrived yet.
Each area of the room is home to specialists in a particular platform who monitor their systems and hardware looking to spot trouble before it escalates. When calls come in about system problems, a cluster of generalists take the information, route it to the appropriate group and ride herd to be sure the problem is solved.
During a tour of the center Dec explained that the GCC was inaugurated in June 1998 to support Prudential's global infrastructure on a daily basis. "But if it didn't already exist," she said, "We'd have to build it" for Y2K.
Since it does exist, all Dec had to do was fine-tune it to monitor how the turnover affects Prudential's 21 mainframes, 4,095 servers and 74,854 desktops in 1,466 locations over 30 countries. Prudential has 35 staffers in the command center and 5,200 IT workers worldwide.
All on the same page
As the year turns, each Prudential location from Tokyo to New York will follow an identical minute-by-minute plan that calls for final batch runs on New Year's Eve, a freeze of all activity from 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. local time, followed by a precise schedule of reboots and quality checks, application by application. Then each site will report its status to the GCC, which will have a complete database of each site and its Y2K timetable. If the GCC crew doesn't hear from a remote site within the hour time frame for reporting, they'll call to check.
Meanwhile, in the control center, the giant video screens will host color-coded databases pinpointing the status of every system as the sites check in. Green indicates OK, yellow, a possible "situation," and red, a problem.
If problems arise during the date change, local staff will report them to the GCC immediately, along with their best guess whether they are Y2K-related. This will help GCC staff notice whether any patterns are emerging, such as a certain network connection being involved in multiple problems.
If the local staff can't solve the problem, there's a good chance the GCC staff can. In their day-to-day battle to keep systems up, they've been able to solve 90% of problems without consulting other system engineers or vendors. But both will also be available as backup.
If a Y2K problem is particularly complex, GCC staff from the affected areas will convene in the "situation room," a small meeting room off the main center, equipped with eight wall-mounted monitors including a Web-enabled electronic whiteboard to map out systems with counterparts in remote installations. "When you're talking systems with someone in Japan, it really helps," Dec says.
Last resort: CNN
Dec and other executives will monitor the Y2K situation from another adjacent room where their resources will include a humble television. "If I don't hear from a site and we can't contact them, we'll probably go to CNN," she says, adding that if international communications are disrupted, "the problem gets a lot bigger than Prudential."
The GCC will enable Dec, who has been renowned for running a very tight Y2K ship, to have her fingers on the pulse of the experience worldwide as it happens. "I'll be here from the beginning to the end," she said, noting that there are plenty of cots handy for catnapping as the day and the night wear on.
"Irene Dec has been a very, very big spokesperson for this [Y2K] activity and the chief nag to get this done," says Dale Vecchio, research director for year 2000 at Gartner Group. "There are many multinationals trying to do the exact same thing, so it's not unique, though it may be one of the most sophisticated."
While she's hoping that everything goes smoothly, the worldwide reporting system will give her 14 hours of information to analyze for Y2K patterns and trends even before the clock strikes midnight in the U.S.