Y2K panic to span decades, analyst group predicts

If you think your company has fully prepared for the year 2000 so that all year 2000 troubles are over for ever -- or at least until the year 9999 -- it's time to bring you the bad news: the year 2000 bug has been silenced, but it's not dead. Most year 2000 problems are not solved but rather have only been postponed for a few decades. Or so says Norway's 2000-Gruppen.

If you think your company has fully prepared for the year 2000 so that all year 2000 troubles are over for ever -- or at least until the year 9999 -- it's time to bring you the bad news: the year 2000 bug has been silenced, but it's not dead. Most year 2000 problems are not solved but rather have only been postponed for a few decades.

This is according to 2000-Gruppen, Norway's premier year 2000 authority, who has been investigating Norwegian approaches to year 2000 problem and discovered that most companies have tackled their year 2000 troubles using windowing techniques. (The year 2000 computer problem is occurring because most older software was written with a two-digit date field that might interpret the "00" in 2000 as "1900" and will fail to make correct calculations.)

In the commonly used windowing technique, also known as logic correction, two-digit year fields are not replaced but rather are interpreted as four-digit fields. For example, one frequent approach sets 40 as the pivot year for the next century so that all dates between the years 00 and 39 are interpreted as dates from the next century while date fields between 40 and 99 are considered as belonging to the twentieth century.

But there are no standards drawn up for windowing techniques here. Different companies have chosen different time windows or pivots, and in some cases there are departmental variations within one company. Some companies even use different windows for different spreadsheet software. As a consequence, when information is transferred from one spreadsheet to another, dates will be interpreted differently.

According to several year 2000 experts, these problems are prevalent. Those businesses that survive Jan. 1, 2000 unscathed may find simply find themselves in trouble at a later date.

TOO EXPENSIVE

For most businesses who have used the windowing technique to prepare for 2000, their decision has been based on cost considerations, analysts said. According to analyst Ulla Sommerfeldt at Norway's Year 20000 Group of Experts, once-and-for-all solutions are 30 percent more expensive than those that use the windowing technique.

One of the few the puritans in Norway is the National Authority for Social Security (Rikstrygdeverket or RTV), which chose to replace all two-digit year fields in their databases and software with four-digit fields. "Because so many of our operations are based on year-related calculations, we chose to change every single date from two to four digits," said Åge Engebretsen, who is in charge of RTV's year 2000 project.

But because RTV has to communicate with external companies, all their outgoing data displays two-digit year fields. Still, to minimize confusion, RTV has informed all parties with whom they exchange date data that their systems are interpreting year fields between 00 and 39 as years in the 21st century, while all numbers between 40 and 99 will be interpreted as years in the 20th century.

Most of RTV's partners "translate” the year dates in the same way as RTV, although some have set 49 as the pivot year, Engebretsen said

SIDEBAR: Year 2000 Bug Meets 2040

The year 2000 problem is not really a dilemma exclusive to the year 2000, but one associated with year-field digits in general. Expect a number of varieties of the infamous year 2000 problem in the next century.

So what if another date bug pops up in 2040? Why worry -- after all, that's another four decades off. Certainly all systems will be replaced by then, or any problem you can think of today will be sorted out before then?

Just keep in mind this is exactly the train of thought that led the programmers, engineers and chief information officers of the 1960s and 1970s to make the decisions they made -- and we all know the implications.

Any business exchanging date information with any other business should pay attention to the solution employed by the other party. Hardware or software that uses windowing with 40 as the pivot year will face difficulties in 2040. So look out for a new period of year 2000 panic - 40 years later.

On the positive side for information technology companies, IT vendors will secure their own future by gaining unlimited new opportunities to sell hardware or offer consultancy services, to sort out a problem that could have been sorted out in 1999 once and for all -- or at least until the year 9999.

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