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1998-04-29 07:18:20


Surveys of Suppliers Are Swamping Suppliers With Paperwork



It is imperative that every firm that relies on suppliers must know if its firms are y2k compliant. But since every firm is dependent, and others are dependent on it, this creates a massive flood of paperwork.

If you are a senior manager responding to these surveys, anything you say can be held against you in a court. So, they are saying as little as possible. Lawyers threaten openness.

This means that no large firm can get straight answers from its suppliers. This means that whatever plans it makes are likely to be wrong. Multiply this across every industry, every company, every nation.

The y2k problem is systemic. It cannot be fixed. This is another reason why.

This is from COMPUTERWORLD (April 27).

* * * * * * * *

Year 2000 surveys have grown from a nuisance to a pain in the neck. They are becoming a drain on corporate resources as project managers struggle with the implications of putting their year 2000 status in writing.

"I get 10 to 20 surveys a day," said Dennis Grummer, director of the year 2000 project at Sears, Roebuck and Co. in Hoffman Estates, Ill. He has personally filled out 400 surveys from business partners asking whether Sears systems are year 2000-ready, and he said he expects to answer 2,000 more. Year 2000 project managers across the country are being swamped with surveys because business partners are trying to figure out if their systems will be up and running come the millennium.

Handling the sheer volume of surveys is difficult enough, but legal experts said project managers could plant legal time bombs if they don't take extra care in how they fill out the surveys.

"There will be litigation," said Claudia Rast, an attorney who heads the information technology law task force at Dickinson Wright PLLC in Detroit. "And anything you say may and will be used against you." . . .

Legally, companies are damned if they do and damned if they don't, said Gerald Jenkins, a partner at Goldberg, Kohn, Bell, Black, Rosenbloom & Moritz Ltd., a Chicago law firm. If they say they will be compliant, that response could be considered a legally binding guarantee. If they say they aren't yet compliant, that could be considered an "anticipatory breach," indicating they intend to leave their business partners in the lurch in 2000. If so, the partners could sue today rather than wait.

The main thing to keep in mind is: Don't guarantee anything, said Chas Snyder, director of year 2000 at Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco. "There's a big difference between guaranteeing something and saying, 'To the best of my knowledge' or 'It is our intention,'" he said.

But don't sour a business relationship with unrelenting legalese. "If a company buys 80% of your product, maybe you should handle it carefully," Jenkins said. "Sometimes, the business relationship is more important than the legal relationship." . . .

Before year 2000 project managers dig in to the fine points of law and business, they need to get control of the surveys flooding in to their companies, because the volume is rising daily. "The number of inquiries in March '98 alone exceeded the number of inquiries in all of 1997," said Irene Dec, year 2000 program director at Prudential Insurance Company of America in Newark, N.J.

Brian Murphy, year 2000 project leader at Canadian Tire Corp. in Toronto, so far has responded to several hundred inquiries and suspects that is just the beginning. "It started as a trickle late last year, but now it's becoming a hassle," said Vincent Cafarelli, director of IT at Converse, Inc. in North Reading, Mass. . . .

Still, what goes around comes around. Year 2000 project managers don't complain too much because most of them have sent similar surveys to their own suppliers.

"If you have a need for information about what your business partners are doing, they have the same need as you do," Murphy said.


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