Year 2000: overlooked anything?

The hatches are battened down and you're waiting for the year 2000 winds to start blowing. But in these last nights before the date rollover, one nagging question is still keeping you awake: what might we possibly have missed? We asked an array of Y2K practitioners and experts to consider what might have slipped through the cracks at an average mid-size or large business.

Here are 10 things they suggested:

-- Legal lapses: Have your legal team do a quick evaluation of recent Y2K laws and see if you have jumped through the hoops necessary to get the protection.

-- An unbiased look: An independent audit will help your team uncover some applications that were overlooked. "The biggest risk is in major manufacturing facilities," says Richard Heath, the senior Y2K manager, Shell Services International. Having independent auditors check a couple of large facilities can give you a sense of how thorough you've been.

-- The storm before the storm: "We keep talking about this as though suddenly at midnight all this stuff will start to happen," says Bill Shackelford, who conducts Y2K seminars for Russell Martin & Associates, a corporate training company in the US. But 2000 will start for some of the world while it's still early New Year's Eve morning in other parts. That means if your business relies on realtime communications with the rest of the world, December. 31 may not be the calm before the storm; it may be the storm before the storm.

-- Communicating in a vacuum: "We expect things like the phones to work, but what if they don't?" says Bill Brydges, another Y2K project manager. His company has worked out a negative communications plan where a lack of contact means action is needed. For example, if employees can't get through for status reports, they will come into the office. Similarly, if system status reports don't come through by the appointed time, Brydges will know there's a problem.

-- Tech backups: Did external service providers fix your systems using windowing techniques or other methodologies that your people don't know? If so, says Irene Dec, Y2K manager at The Prudential Insurance Company, be sure that those outside providers are on-site during the date change and beyond to fix their fixes if your people don't know how.

-- What about recovery? "Companies often haven't looked at the period from when they have to execute the business continuity plan to when they're back up and running," says Chuck Aquilina, director of the Resolve 2000 practice at Keane. Suppose, for example, that you have to distribute your product manually for a week. When you're ready to start automating again, how do you capture the data relating to the manual operations that have transpired during the week? "It's not as simple as starting up again," he says.

-- The great unknown: Despite all the planning, some things are going to take you by surprise, says Ed Yourdon, chairman of Cutter Consortium and a US Computerworld columnist. Your company's ability to cope with this will depend on your people's ability to think on their feet. "We have to prepare our people and our culture to cope," Yourdon says. It's too late to change your culture, but encouraging a can-do mentality in the face of the unknown may get people in the right mind-set.

-- Customer comfort: If you're in a key supply or service industry, initiate contact with concerned customers on Y2K issues, says one Y2K project manager. "Take the time to give your clients that level of comfort that they need."

-- Partial failures: Brydges says many companies have built contingency plans that assume a system is down. But more likely we'll see degraded abilities or one part of a system miscalculating. "So you're not going to a full manual process, but you have to figure out how to take care of that one little subset," he says. You may want to modularise those contingency plans.

-- Stock market roller coaster: Many companies are stockpiling as much as 10 per cent above normal supplies, says Andy Kyte, an analyst at Gartner Group. This means suppliers' and logistics companies' financial results may be artificially inflated in the fourth quarter only to dip steeply early next year as customers use up those stockpiles. "And the rewards you get for good results [in the fourth quarter] aren't nearly as great as the punishment you'll get" for bad results in the following quarter, Kyte says. His advice: explain the artificial inflation in your fourth-quarter financial reports so the financial community will be ready for the first-quarter dip.

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