This article from DATAMATION (Jan.) offers a graphic introduction to the multiple layers of dependency.
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Variations on this frightening scenario may be playing out three years from now for many companies. Even though these organizations have been working diligently and spending millions of dollars to address the technical aspects of their Year 2000 projects, it won't matter--they'll still be vulnerable to a slip-up by another firm.
A tangled web
Consider the tangled web of business interrelationships that exist among organizations. First, there are customers. Next, suppliers; vendors; financial service providers; insurance carriers; federal, state and local government agencies; electric utilities; telecommunications networks; and even competitors. If the performance or dependability of one falters, the survival of your company could be at risk.
And not all your dependencies are as big or as obvious as your supply chain or your banking relationship. Think about it: You depend on services like heating and ventilation systems, security systems, PBX systems, LANs, and other elements of infrastructure. Having blind faith and assuming that the supplier of each of these systems has correctly solved the Year 2000 problem may have disastrous consequences.
The problem is, none of these external dependencies shows up in the millions of lines of code your company inventories, scans, fixes, or tests. But even one dependency gone awry can jeopardize the stability of your firm. Just ask a chief financial officer to assess the consequences on cash flow if the overnight lock-box system fell apart. Or ask a production manager about just-in-time inventory management using undependable suppliers. If you're a retailer, consider the problem if embedded chips in point-of-sale terminals fail to operate or your VAN's EDI network crashes. . . .
Trickier, but equally important for many companies, is gathering information on facilities dependencies. You need a detailed list of heating and air-conditioning units, PBXs, even the controller chips that run your fleet of cars and trucks, because many of these could be critical dependencies, and some could have Y2K problems.
Collecting all of this information is difficult enough, but the real challenge comes when the top-down and bottom-up collection efforts meet. This is where the technology links with the business imperatives, and it's going to take a multidisciplinary team with people from IS and from the business areas to make the connections between the two happen. . . .
To solve the Year 2000 problem completely, management needs to act and act quickly. Today the focus of the problem must shift from being a technical issue to being a business survival issue. Until IS management understands that the entire organization has a stake in this problem, and until business managers accept the responsibility to act (and not assume that everything will be okay simply because people are working on the problem), the final outcome will be in jeopardy.