Reflecting on Y2K

Year 2000 projects – whether they were well-scheduled contingency exercises or frantic last-minute code patches – were the focus of most IT departments in 1999 to the extent that other areas of the industry suffered. It was all too common last year to hear that companies couldn’t afford to look at new technology such as storage area networks, videoconferencing, unified messaging or other nifty new ways of doing business because all of their money, personnel and resources were “tied up in Y2K.”

Now that the date has rolled over without the massive death and destruction predicted by largely clueless laypeople, those same clueless people have been complaining that too much money was spent on what is now too often referred to as the Y2K myth.

But the front-line people involved in Y2K planning don’t share the view that Y2K was overblown.

“I certainly wouldn’t subscribe to that view whatsoever. We feel confident that the work undertaken was prudent and required,” said Don Hogarth, spokesperson for Bell Canada in Toronto. Bell invested approximately $350 million to be year 2000 ready, which Hogarth said included the review of about 83 million lines of code.

“Basically everything and anything having to do with communications that we manage (was fixed),” he said. “When you consider the fact that a major portion of the country’s telecommunications infrastructure is the responsibility of Bell Canada…then the steps we took to maintain that reliability were well worth it. No question about it.”

Paul Tsaparis, president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HP) Canada in Mississauga, agreed that the money and effort spent was prudent.

“I think what we actually saw here was a collection of a lot of different companies and government agencies around the world coming together around a common issue and in fact doing a very good job at making it a non-event. So from our perspective, no we certainly don’t regret the preparation, energy, time and investment that we put into this. That’s exactly what we were planning for…we wanted to make sure that it was a non-event for our customers and our own internal operations.”

HP Response Centers were staffed as usual on a 24-hour basis December 30 to January 4, but HP Customer Care call centres for enterprise customers had their staff increased by more than five times the regular weekend and holiday force. Executive managers were on call during the rollover, and over 20,000 employees world-wide were either on-site or phoning customers to ensure systems were running smoothly.

The Canadian federal government spent approximately $2.5 billion on Y2K, according to Lucienne Robillard, president of the Treasury Board of Canada and Minister responsible for the co-ordination of the year 2000 effort. Robillard considered the money well-spent.

“I would say that it’s because we spent that money that we don’t have problems. It’s because we put in hard efforts and money during a long time,” Robillard said at a press conference.

Robert Wilson, director of the DMR Consulting Group in Toronto, said, “It wasn’t so much a matter of worth than it was a matter of everybody had to do it whether they liked it or not.”

Wilson said aside from being ready for the date rollover itself, the act of getting ready was good for companies.

“A lot of people, because there weren’t a whole lot of hiccups, think it was a non-event and that we’d probably spent far too much money and effort…but the fact of the matter is there was a lot of good work that was put in. I think the work that was done under the auspices of Y2K did an awful lot of stabilizing in the current environments. There were a lot of poor practices in place,” that Y2K planning changed, Wilson explained.

As for the apparent “non-event,” Wilson is sceptical and said he wonders how much did go wrong but remained invisible due to good contingency plans that fixed problems before they were noticeable. He also resents the attitude of blame projected by the bitter and uninformed.

“I think it was probably more of an event than we know about, but far less than is being published… A lot of companies actually blame consulting firms by saying: ‘you guys created this as a revenue generator in the last half of this decade.'”