CIPS throws Y2K lifeline to non-profit agencies

Members of the Canadian Information Processing Society are donating their time to help non-profit organizations slay the Y2K dragon — and at least one volunteer believes the help is desperately needed.

CIPS executives contacted its 7,500 members earlier this year, asking qualified members to sign up for the CIPS Y2K Lend a Hand program. As part of the program, CIPS members with hands-on Y2K experience can volunteer 50 hours to perform Y2K inventories and risk assessments for cash strapped non-profit or charitable agencies.

CIPS is a national body aiming to be the official, governing body of the IT community, similar to bodies that oversee doctors or engineers. It created the Information Systems Professional (I.S.P.) designation in 1989 in an attempt to standardize IT credentials. It has since been adopted by some provinces as an official professional IT standard.

Those CIPS members who volunteer for Lend a Hand may specify which organizations they do – or don’t – feel comfortable working with. And once the 50 hours or initial assessments are complete, members have the option of arranging to stay on with the agencies to continue helping under terms suitable to them.

The only caveat: those wishing to benefit from Lend a Hand must clear CIPS of all liability in the event something goes wrong.

At press time, 40 volunteers had signed on. But only one agency, the Banff chapter of the YWCA, had expressed interest.

“Lend a Hand is part of our role; we have a role to play and we have a network of people ready to jump in,” said Robert Langlois, president of CIPS, based in Toronto.

Langlois said non-profit agencies, like small and medium-sized companies, ignored the Y2K problem until the last minute. But where companies have access to money and people, non-profits by definition rarely have adequate funds.

“Obviously, the non-profit organizations don’t have the money to address Y2K issues,” Langlois said. “Most of them didn’t dedicate time to it, they didn’t think it was real.”

Such was the case at the YWCA in Banff. The YWCA offers job training, counselling and other forms of support to women and their families. In Banff, the YWCA maintains not only its main community centre, but a hotel and restaurant as well.

Virginia Trawick, accounting manager with the Banff YWCA said renovations to the facilities left the YWCA executive without the necessary funds to battle Y2K. “We don’t have the resources to hire someone for Y2K issues,” she said. “We already arranged for a software and hardware upgrade, and we’re overbudget on that.”

The upgrade involves switching 17 to 20 8-bit PCs running Windows 3.1 to 32-bit machines running Windows 98; beefing up the 1MB network; installing NetWare 4.2; new modems; and new versions of Microsoft Office and other accounting software.

Tracwick hopes to have the work done by Sept. 30. The CIPS volunteer is scheduled to pay the YWCA a visit in October, to see where the upgrade has left them in regards to Y2K. Trawick admits that she was surprised by the scope and the cost of the problem.

“I only started in March. The last person hadn’t been around for three months. When I started, nothing had been done. Even up to last year, no one was worried,” she said.

At least one CIPS volunteer – a Y2K consultant and 30-year IT veteran who works exclusively with non-profit organizations – can’t believe they aren’t lining up to take advantage of Lend a Hand.

“When CIPS appealed to the members, I thought it would be a nice way to help. I thought it would be a good idea. But nobody called,” said Israel Aharoni, who runs Solutions Y2K in Thornhill, Ont. He said non-profits tend not to appreciate the scope of the problem.

“Wake up, it’s not just computers, it’s supply chain management. It’s quite important to their survival.”

Another Lend a Hand volunteer, Richard Fung, project leader with Toronto’s Police Liaison Services and a 30 year IT veteran said volunteering for Lend a Hand gives him a way to network with others in the industry. “It’s also payback time for us that have 30 years in the industry, to give something back,” Fung said.

Fung said many non-profits, those who rely on stand-along PCs, can probably get away with downloading shareware to check the BIOS and software. But he said testing is also necessary, and that might stretch beyond the 50 hours he can allot.

“This also helps to promote CIPS, and I would like to help CIPS enhance its image,” he said.