Y2K may leave a lasting legacy

The legacy of the year 2000 problem may reverberate for years in companies and government agencies in the form of new management styles and outlooks. It has raised the visibility of information technology departments, fostered teamwork across large enterprises and made things like disaster planning crucial.

It has also left some IT managers more circumspect about the future. For example, Michael Zupon, IT director at Ward Trucking Co. in Altoona, Pa., said that when he buys software now, he thinks about how it will be used in 10 or 20 years.

“We’re a little more cautious, apprehensive and thorough of our analysis of future software investments,” said Zupon. “I think it makes us a little more strategic.”

For many companies and government agencies, year 2000 work improved inventory records and forced them to write contingency plans-benefits that also could quickly evaporate, warned IT managers.

“There were a lot of things that happened that will be of continued benefit to the state,” said Robert Mayer, the Maine state government’s CIO. “One thing is our inventory. That is a very valuable piece of information, and it will go out of date in a month unless we make a conscious effort to keep it up-to-date.”

In Buffalo, N.Y., the region’s major manufacturers, banks and health care providers said they plan to keep alive a year 2000 user group they formed so they can discuss electronic data interchanges, information security, networking and other issues, said Elmer Gau, year 2000 project manager at Goodyear Dunlop Tires NA Ltd. in Buffalo.

“We are going to continue that interest group after Y2K and use it in our general business, so actually we’ve come out of this in a much better community position,” said Gau.

Y2K repairs also opened eyes to the importance of information technology.

“Senior management, from the secretary on down, now have a much more complete understanding about how important IT is to the organization,” said Fernando Burbano, CIO at the U.S. Department of State, where 2,000 IT employees manage systems for more than 260 embassies, consulates and posts.

Burbano said the experiences of the year 2000 problem will help in tackling what he calls the “next Y2K”-meeting the requirements of President Clinton’s 1998 directive to improve information security at federal agencies.

“Cyberterrorism is only going to get worse, and you can’t use the excuse that it was minimal during the Y2K rollover,” said Burbano. “Who knows, those people might have been partying-but they’re not gone. That’s a fact.”

The State Department spent some US$200 million on the year 2000 problem, but Burbano said security improvements for its worldwide networks could cost three times that amount. Congress hasn’t approved the additional funding that will be needed for those improvements, he said.

Y2K also spurred many companies and agencies to develop business continuity plans-the means to keep operating in the event of a computer failure. Roger Baker, CIO at the U.S. Department of Commerce, said that work will continue. “We intend to move forward from the baseline of Y2K, and not just let the stuff sit,” he said.

The year 2000 problem also sparked a computer buying spree, as companies invested in upgrades sooner than they might have otherwise.

“I also believe [the year 2000 problem] made a lot of PC manufacturers rich,” said Dennis Phillips, IT director at Joseph C. Sansone Co. in St. Louis, a business tax consulting firm.