Guest column: From the Editor in Chief

Even the dark clouds of the year-2000 problem have silver linings that IT can be proud of.

Although we still have another week before we finally see how the year-2000 crisis will play out, most IT people will have reason to look back with pride on the events of 1999.

For the first time in history, the entire IT community rose up and focused on the same issue.

Granted, it took a crisis of global proportions to make that happen, but it nevertheless represents tremendous accomplishment regardless of the actual results.

In the days ahead, that community spirit will be important to tap into because most of the major last-minute issues that IT people will need to address will come from outside their companies.

Despite everybody's best efforts, there are going to be pockets of problems.

In particular, many countries outside the United States are not fully prepared for the date changeover, many small businesses have ignored the problems surrounding the issue, and many state and local governments simply didn't have the resources necessary to fix every system or process.

The truth is that many of the states in this country are bigger than half the foreign countries around the world and run much more complex operations on very limited budgets.

All the IT people dealing with these segments of the global population and the state and local governments are going to need help from anywhere they can find it.

The good news is that lots of IT people will be working over the holiday to make sure their own operations are stable.

The bad news is that many of these operations will be adversely affected by events outside of the control of the best IT people inside these companies.

The key virtues that need to be brought to the table are patience and a generosity of spirit. These virtues can best be demonstrated by lending your expertise to those who are less fortunate than you.

Beyond bringing the far-flung IT community a little closer together, the year-2000 crisis has also had another unintended, beneficial side effect.

It created a much-needed impetus for self-examination. Every IT organization on the planet -- businesses, governments, and others -- have been running at least one system or application that should have been retired or rewritten years ago.

But because of a host of business and political issues common to any organization, nothing was ever really done about these systems.

This eventually led to the creation of a mass of undocumented spaghetti code running on ancient systems that are no longer supported by vendors. In short, no one in his or her right mind wanted to tackle the job of fixing, upgrading, or retiring these systems.

But with virtual annihilation staring everyone in the face, suddenly there was no choice.

The most common solution for Fortune 2000 companies was to adopt enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications to replace outdated applications at the core of the business and then to employ armies of developers to patch other existing mission-critical applications.

In the course of that process, however, a strange thing started to happen.

The imposition of an ERP system required a company's business processes to conform to a single set of standards. And although that job was backbreaking, it also for the first time allowed IT to really rationalize and modernize its IT infrastructure. In short, year-2000 issues and ERP have become twin pillars of stability for IT.

Of course, the next big challenge will be electronic business.

The good news is that there is a lot of stability in place today.

The bad news is that a lot of the work most IT people just did will become obsolete overnight, as sweeping changes to business processes force everyone to abandon some cherished ERP assumptions.

But until that actually happens, the year-2000 crisis will probably be remembered more for the overall good that it fostered than for the inconveniences we're all about to experience.

Got another point of view? Write to me at michael_vizard@infoworld.com.

Michael Vizard is editor in chief at InfoWorld. He has spent his career covering technology news.

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