Nestle's date with trouble

Nestle Australia's carefully-planned year 2000 strategy has experienced a hiccup thanks to product shelf lives that spill into the next millennium.

The 21st century use-by dates on such products are sticking in the throat of Nestle's computer systems that are not yet Y2K compliant.

As a result, the company must trim a year off the date recorded in the stock-keeping system's use-before field while physically printing the correct date on the item.

The short-dated computer record must then be amended to correspond with the correct date once Nestle's Y2K conversion is complete.

Doug Horwood, Nestle Australia's information services manager, downplayed the significance of the problem in terms of monetary impact. So far the only item in Nestle's inventory affected by the glitch has been a confectionary product, Horwood said.

The company was on schedule to bring its IT systems into Y2K compliance by mid-year, which should short-circuit any further difficulties, he said. "It hiccuped on us but this is only one item out of thousands that we manufacture and it is an insignificant issue." Nestle began planning its Y2K conversion three years ago and the glitch illustrates how the millennium bug holds surprises for even the best-prepared IT shop.

Use-before dates that fall after January 1, 2000 are a variation of the forward-business problem which also affects credit card, insurance and magazine subscription companies.

It is another example of the pitfalls lurking in the shadows of the Y2K question. Few companies are rushing to advertise how they are falling into similar traps. Even IT managers who believe they have the situation firmly under control admit they will be holding their breath on January 1, 2000.

"I am hoping to win Lotto before then," says Mike Stacey, IT manager of clothing manufacturer Farah Australia. Farah runs its business on an IBM AS/400 platform using packaged applications whose upgrades are advertised as Y2K compliant by their vendors.

However, Stacey is uncomfortably aware that no vendors are backing up their Y2K-ready hardware or software with absolute guarantees.

"Short of setting my system date to January 1, 2000 and running live data, I can't predict what is going to happen," he says.

"I am feeling pretty comfortable about the OS/400 but really, it doesn't matter what they do, I am going to be scared spitless when that date clicks over."

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