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1997-11-25 08:19:41


No Doomsayers . . . Just No Provable Good News



There are happy-face assurances, but without data to support them. There are concerned forecasts, with some good news from the U.S. only, but not one compliant money center bank. But what the headlines say is: "No Doomsayers."

Notice the slant: for a medium to large company, the story says, it can take two years, although this does not include testing. What is this really saying? That any firm that has not started by now will not finish. But the author does not say this. Furthermore, there is not one compliant Fortune 500-size company, and some have been working on y2k for five years. There is not a shred of evidence that a large company can solve this problem in two years, or three, or five. Purdue University and Oklahoma State University have been working on it since 1985, and neither is compliant.

The good news brigade provides motivational rhetoric without facts. The bad news brigade provides facts without motivational rhetoric. What people need in order to get them to take effective action while there is still time is facts with motivational rhetoric.

This San Jose MERCURY story (Nov. 23) is typical.

* * * * * * * *

''We're projecting 30 percent (of organizations) will have mission-critical system failures,'' says Matt Hotle, research director at the Gartner Group, a Connecticut consulting firm.

Nonsense, say many corporate and government officials who insist that their year 2000 problems will be fixed well before the witching hour.

''The average person won't have to worry about it at all,'' says Ron Cytron, a computer science professor at Washington University in St. Louis. ''It involves a lot of hard work, but it'll get done.''

Will not. Will, too. Will not . . . What in blazes is going on here? . . .

Many of those who foresee major disruption cite people's proclivity for denial, procrastination and false hope. They don't trust assurances from organizations whose own business would be jeopardized if they admit to year 2000 problems.

On the other side are those betting on the diligence, resourcefulness and resolve of their fellow men and women. They believe doomsayers are fear-mongering to pump up the growing business of selling year 2000 advice and solutions. . . .

For a medium to large company, the process can take two years or more, depending on the complexity of its systems. And that doesn't include time for testing the revisions. . . .

Eugene Ludwig, the U.S. comptroller of the currency, told a gathering of business executives recently that his initial doubts were misplaced and that the bug is, ''if anything, more serious than we had imagined.'' . . .

At giant brokerage house Merrill Lynch nearly 100 people are working full time to correct more than 170 million lines of code in its worldwide operations. Estimated cost: $200 million. . . .

Leon Kappelman, a computer systems professor at the University of North Texas and co-chairman of a year 2000 working group of the international Society of Information Management, talks to people in the trenches and doesn't like what he hears.

''At this point, we have so much work to do we can't possibly get it done,'' said Kappelman, who periodically surveys the society's membership of 2,700 information technology managers, academics and consultants, to get a sense of what companies and other agencies are actually doing to solve the problem.

From his most recent survey, Kappelman estimates that between 25 percent and 40 percent of the nation's companies and agencies are doing ''real work.'' Between 35 percent and 50 percent aren't doing anything, and the rest are still ''planning.''

Major consulting, research and investment analyst firms generally agree that time has run dangerously short.

''I'm not a doomsayer at all,'' says Bob Austrian, an analyst at the investment bank NationsBanc Montgomery Securities in San Francisco. ''But when I see an ad in the Wall Street Journal in November 1997 from the Los Angeles World Airport looking for bids just to assess its year 2000 needs, I sit and wonder."


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