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1998-04-08 18:41:47


Classic Strategy: Warn Readers About Their Outfits' Y2K Problems



Western Farmers Electric Cooperative (WFEC), an Oklahoma utility, has placed a press release on its site. It begins with a question:

"The Year 2000 - Is your computer ready to handle it?"

It's not that the utility is facing the greatest challenge in its history. No; it's that the reader might be.

But, of course, the reader isn't all that concerned. Someone in his organization is taking care of y2k. Anyway, he assumes this. So, why should WFEC be any more worried than he is?

I have seen this same strategy in bank newsletters sent to customers. It's a variation of, "Fix your problems first, buddy; then start looking into ours. Remove the mote in your eye before you try to take the splinter out of mine." It puts the burden on the reader, who is ready to shrug it off.

But there is one itsy-bitsy problem here: if the local power company goes down for the count in 2000, almost no other large organization will survive in its area.

Notice that the press release admits that half of the utilitiy's vendors are not compliant. What if they don't get compliant? What can the utility's managers do about this? What if the vendors' competitors are also noncompliant? Finding out that there is a problem is not the same as coming up with a solution.

The document raises problems, but only in regard to other organizations. It makes them sound as though they are in much worse shape. This strategy may solve a PR problem. It dores not solve the y2k problem.

* * * * * * *

Less than two years from now, local businesses will be facing a threat that has the potential to disrupt business processes throughout their communities. This threat comes from a combination of the use of computers in business and how they react to the year 2000. . . .

Unfortunately, many businesses are currently unaware of this problem and how negatively it could affect their ongoing operations. "The threat that the year 2000 represents can be minimized by checking with every vendor that has supplied our business with computers, software, or computer controlled devices. Each vendor should be asked to furnish a written statement regarding their products year 2000 compliance," said [Western Farmers Electric Cooperative’s Director of Computer Services, Howard] Fleshman.

WFEC has completed this process and found that almost half of its vendors’ products have year 2000 problems that will require the intervention of WFEC staff to correct. "Had we not checked, each one of the items would have resulted in an unwelcome surprise shortly after the century change," stated Ron Cunningham, manager of finance and administration.

It is also important to check with vendors that provide a critical service or supply to your business. If their business is disrupted by the year 2000, your business can be affected as well. Local businesses that use computers in any way should begin checking their systems as soon as possible. Those that wait until the last minute may find that there is not enough time to correct the problems that they find.

The litigation that results from businesses that damage other businesses, shareholders, or customers is expected to be significant. This is an issue of due diligence for business management, and we have an obligation to get our businesses ready for this event.

"We appreciate the work done by Fleshman and many other WFEC employees in assessing our risks. Our Board of Trustees was given a presentation on how global this problem actually is. We also showed them our course of action and our efforts for solving the problem," said J. M. Shafer, WFEC general manager.


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