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1998-05-20 22:39:12


VENDORS: Panic Among Dependent Managers



If the software vendors don't get their systems compliant, those companies and whole industries dependent on them will fail. All large companies rely heavily on third-party software. Mid-size and small banks are especially dependent. Some large companies may have a hundred vendors. This is complex, highly specialized software. It's not a Microsoft product. There may be no compliant replacement software.

I'll go out on a limb (as usual); there won't be.

All talk about getting compliant by December 31, 1998, with "a year for testing" assumes that the vendors will delivered fixed, fully tested software this year. It is not happening. It is not going to happen. Some will; some won't; but for a dependent firm's survival, they all must.

The panic will escalate in late December. Managers will then know the truth: their companies will not make the deadline. Neither will their industries.

Everyone has delegated downward to someone else. The world is supported on the back of an elephant, says Hindu mythology. And it's elephants all the way down -- noncompliant elephants.

This is from INFORMATIONWEEK (May 18).

* * * * * * * * *

As the time for systemwide year 2000-compliance testing nears, frustration is mounting among CIOs and project managers over the failure of software vendors to meet deadlines and deliver on promises.

Among the most common complaints are the need for project managers to retest software that vendors initially said was compliant, and missed project deadlines due to vendor problems. Project managers also say they are having difficulties staying on top of vendor efforts, identifying substitute products, and adjusting staff and budget levels to cope with vendor surprises.

Even federal agencies, which must make their systems year 2000 compliant by September and implement them by next March, are having difficulty getting vendors to cooperate.

"Some vendors have yet to release year 2000-compliant upgrades of their products," James Flyzik, CIO at the Department of Treasury, told a U.S. House of Representatives oversight committee. "While we are continuing to work on our renovation efforts, our testing cannot be completed until we have obtained and integrated the year 2000-compliant third-party versions of these products."

Project managers are beginning to lean heavily on vendors. Household International, for example, just sent stern messages to vendors that have not responded to compliance queries or have not provided enough detail in their responses, says Thomas Wilkie, the company's year 2000 project director.

"Some vendors are up-front and eager to work with us," says Wilkie. "Others are getting us compliance dates in 1999, which is ridiculous because we are supposed to be finished in 1998." . . .

Another problem project managers are running into is the need to retest systems that were touted as being year 2000 compliant. When Household ran its own tests of VisionPlus, a credit-card processing system from PaySys International Inc., it found some programming automatically inserted "19" into the first two character fields for the year, according to Wilkie. . . .

"Vendors' first response was that everything was fine, and then they all went and checked," says Wilkie. . . .

Among the chief reasons for not testing more carefully the first time around, Popek says, is that development managers were faced with urgent competitive pressures that took far higher priority than year 2000, which not only looked "boring," but also looked like an expense rather than a competitive advantage or revenue generator. . . .

Overall, most year 2000 project managers appear to be coping despite the software industry's shortcomings. "People have pretty much accepted it," says Kappelman. "[They] know they have to test and know they have to have contingency plans in case compliant products are not available on time; but this will have a backlash effect on the vendors, and it will be hard to restore trust in the industry."

That may be especially true if members of boards of directors, who can be held personally liable for year 2000-related problems affecting their business or the businesses of their customers or suppliers, seek to cover themselves by suing vendors.


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