Guest column: Worst is over; take advantage of the Y2K windfall

"Every kind of nut, charlatan and headline-seeker will be making pronouncements about Y2K and our previously obscure profession."

Say, who said that? Oh, now I remember -- I did! More than a year ago, in fact, in my last column of 1998. I was talking about the downside of all the light that would be shining on the information technology profession during 1999. Did we want all that scrutiny? Did we want to be in the position of being either the creators of the bug that ended civilisation as we know it or alarmists like Chicken Little?

Well, the headline-seeking came to pass, and Y2K was hyped beyond belief -- despite, I might add, my repeated assurances in this column that it would have minimal impact on the economy. My company has even gone on record with an estimate of how much the world overprepared for the millennium change ($US65 billion to $75 billion).

Nevertheless, there seems to be little fallout from the overhyping of Y2K. Those nuts, charlatans and headline-seekers have all pretty much declared victory over the Y2K plague and gone on to other business. They're crediting themselves for raising the alarm and the IT profession for eradicating the bug. I only know of one foreign minister who had to resign for whipping his population into a froth over Y2K.

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to take advantage of this post-Y2K euphoria. Here are some tips:

-- At every chance, lament how much the politicians, tort lawyers and media hyped Y2K. You knew all along that your company was well protected (proving your loyalty and sagacity).

-- Point out that there are still plenty of Y2K issues to face -- such as fixing all those date-related database entries in your customer records (reinforcing that there was a problem in the first place).

-- Talk about how Y2K gave the country a much-improved computer base, which will make us more competitive with our trading partners (deflecting criticism that you overprepared; the Y2K spin doctors have already widely publicized this argument).

-- Launch immediate plans to turn your company into an e-business (preserving IT department momentum).

According to International Data Corp.'s (IDC) Project Magellan Y2K research (http://www.idc.com), government agencies and US corporations spent $42 billion last year working on Y2K. This year, they'll need to spend less than $12 billion. Yet, from all indications, IT budgets across the country will rise an aggregate 5 percent to 10 percent this year. That means there will be about $50 billion in new IT spending, plus the $30 billion Y2K windfall. So, while the economy is good, let's make sure we keep that money.

In a survey of more than 1,000 North American companies last year, IDC asked what the key post-Y2K priorities would be. No. 1 was implementing enterprisewide applications. No. 2: expanding and improving Web sites. A good e-commerce effort will do both.

Obviously, business managers aren't going to spend willy-nilly on IT. But the IT profession is getting pretty good press right now, and its credibility has never been higher. What better time to make a bid to be entrusted with more responsibility for your company's future? Go for it.

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