The Year 2000 bonanza

Thousands of articles have been written about the Year 2000 problem. Let me crack the obligatory joke about flying over New Years Eve. Did you know some airline in the US has grounded their fleet?

But doom and gloom be buggered. Let's face it, the Year 2000 is the biggest bonanza to hit town for, well, a millennia.

Technology budgets are booming. IT managers are presenting to boards, mentioning some line about directors' responsibility and, more importantly, accountability, and dipping their hands in the honey jar for millions and millions.

As a result, IT Professionals are in demand. Anyone who can spell Cobol is rolling in it. Some vendors are cleaning up, or will be once the wholesale panic begins.

In this age of business rationalism, the Year 2000 bug is totally irrational. Billions of dollars are being spent just to maintain the status quo. Let's spend 20 million and achieve, well, nothing!

MIS managers can revert to old habits. We need a 20 per cent increase in budget because, well "we need it".

The biggest joke is, if it doesn't work we can all just get a new job come 2001. There will be a big rotation as MIS team after MIS team move into each other's territory and grind another budget bonanza out of management to fix the legacy of the last bunch of clowns.

And it will happen. One person I was speaking to actually knew that if you wound the clock back 28 years, you would solve the problem to some extent as 28 years ago was the last time all the days of the week lined up with the exact same dates. Fancy taking the time to figure that out or even thinking of it in the first place.

But what is often not factored into people's consideration of the problem is the tremendous long term political damage the Year 2000 bug is causing IT professionals and the industry in general.

Successful corporate governance is all about team work. As a result of a series of processes, a group of often like-minded individuals make it into senior management. They are all focussed on the business. Sure, a lot of self-interest remains, but, unless corruption exists, self-interest is balanced against self-preservation. And self-preservation is driven by producing results and being accountable (you can't take credit for anything unless it is recorded).

Often these are people who have fought and worked and slaved, driven just to be where they are. They are proud of what they have achieved and intend to stay there.

How many measure their success is by the size of the budget that they control. The bigger their empire, the more important they are. Simple.

So, Year 2000 arrives in the board room. You are presenting. What you are saying is:

1) I want a bigger empire (money, staff)2) I am not going to achieve anything (you won't understand why and just to prove it here is a diagram)3) I am not accountable (there are no guarantees we will fix the problem)Senior management, united to a person by their fight to be where they are, are not going to react well to this no matter how well it is put.

In their eyes you are asking to be more important, to suck substantial resources from the beloved company or department, and to contribute nothing.

And the justification you use is the threat of a technological Armageddon, the comprehension of which makes the Book of Revelations look like a kindergarten text.

Of course, all reasonable boards and executive will understand where you are coming from. Many will realise that you, personally, did not implant the bug in their system.

But likewise, those same reasonable people will, in their heart of hearts be asking questions. Paranoia is a big contributor to the success of many executives. Are you rowing on the same team? Are you on the take? Is there another way? Are you being as efficient as you could be?

These are all questions that the astute will realise must never be asked.

So assuming you are one of the many IT professionals now working for a company or department that is dragging the chain on solving the Year 2000 bug, you need to be aware of the dynamics. Sure, you may need to read the riot act, or start preaching in the lunchroom and baptising with the water fountain, to get some action. And sure, you might be doing it because you believe passionately in your company. But chances are some of the mud will stick to you.

We all want more IT professionals to break through the glass ceiling into executive management, so we must be careful not to let the Year 2000 problem retard the progress.

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