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Computer expert says there's no easy fix for Y2K problem

June 04, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

A computer pro has some bad news for businesses that are waiting for a "silver bullet" to fix the world's millennium woes.

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"There isn't one," computer scientist Gary Fisher, of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, told local business people at a seminar Wednesday.

Companies should be taking steps to prepare themselves for computer problems posed by the Year 2000 - or Y2K.

The problem is that date-dependent computers are programmed to take only the last two digits of a date, Fisher said.

Every system needs to be readied so it won't confuse 2000 with 1900 and so it will treat 2000 as a leap year, he said.

Companies should take a methodical approach to Year 2000 "compliance," starting by defining what compliance means when it comes to the needs of an individual company, Fisher said.

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The first step is to be aware of the problem, and to make sure the company's senior management knows the seriousness and depth of the problem and is committed to solving it, he said.

The second step is to inventory all of the company's computer-driven technology, from the obvious computer hardware and software to "embedded systems" that govern things like heating and air-conditioning systems, telephone systems and security systems, Fisher said.

Next, analyze each system to determine how critical it is to the company's operation and whether it should be retired, replaced with an off-the-shelf product that can do the job or custom renovated, he said.

A company should have a detailed plan for allocating resources, both money and people, to solve all of the company's problems associated with Year 2000 glitches, and a contingency plan as well, Fisher said.

Next, implement whatever solutions are decided on, documenting everything done to protect the company from potential liability if things go awry and to document the firm's end of the story if it needs to pursue a lawsuit, he said.

Once the systems are fixed, they must be tested extensively, both in isolation and in concert with other systems, to make sure they'll work in all needed applications, Fisher said.

Testing will be the most time-consuming and expensive component of solving the Year 2000 problem, expected to comprise 45 percent to 75 percent of the anticipated $300 billion to $600 billion spent on solutions worldwide, he said.

The final step should be an independent audit to receive certification that the solutions are adequate, Fisher said.

It doesn't end there, however, he said.

Firms need to be diligent with maintenance to protect their systems from "recontamination," setting up "some sort of fire wall" to make sure bad data doesn't get back in, Fisher said.

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