Retailers, Gov't Still Vigilant for Y2K Glitches

Cathy Hotka, vice president of information technology at the National Retail Federation in Washington, spent much of last week at the White House's Information Coordination Center. The center is still on the lookout for year 2000 problems. Hotka spoke with Computerworld reporter David Orenstein.

Q: Did things go as smoothly for retailers?

A: I think the operating assumption among most [retailers] was that we would have problems not only with small retailers, but also with suppliers, particularly suppliers in smaller Third World countries. So far, that has not been the case at all. What we've seen so far ... is nuisance glitches, which retailers are finding and fixing on the fly.

Q: For example?

A: We're seeing reports spitting out with the wrong dates.

Q: Are CEOs asking why they had to spend so much when other nations didn't and also sailed by?

A: I'm sure that those questions will be asked, but I think answering them is going to be relatively easy. We, as a group, embarked in the summer of 1997 on a joint retail industry mission to find out whether retailers needed to spend this money. We found out, for instance, that 100% of private-label credit-card management systems were not going to make it. We found out that 99% of warehouse management systems were not going to make it.

Q: What do people think we've learned?

A: The consensus is that we need to make sure this does not happen again. The reason we had to do all this work and spend all this money is because there was probably not a sufficient-ly well-developed sense of the reliance of any business on IT. As we move our business online, as networks become more important, as trading partners talk to each other electronically, as a matter of course, we need to make sure that information is protected.

Q: What can retailers do with all the data about systems they compiled?

A: We found a tremendous duplication of effort and expense in systems. One of our expectations is that retailers will take this inventory, maintain it and be able then to create a much better, higher-level view of how technology is used.

We think they will be able to save money in the long run.

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