Were Y2K remediation efforts a big waste of time and money for corporate America? The answer looks to be a resounding no.
Network professionals report a host of benefits they will enjoy in 2000 and beyond because of IT inventories, business analysis and system testing completed under the umbrella of Y2K preparedness.
Overall, the United States spent more than US$100 billion fixing the Y2K problem since 1995, according to John Koskinen, the federal government's Y2K czar. He estimates that the rest of the world spent an additional $100 billion to repair and replace computer systems and networks in preparation for the millennium date change.
The investments appear to have been wise. While many government agencies and companies experienced minor Y2K-related glitches, no significant system outages occurred over New Year's weekend. And although it's too early to declare victory over Y2K, date-change problems expected during the next few weeks and months will likely be nuisances rather than business-crippling matters.
As IT executives close up their command centers, they're putting together the lessons they've learned from the Y2K drill. They say one of the biggest advantages is Y2K forced them to thoroughly inventory and document IT systems and networks.
"We were able to conduct a very intensive inventory of all our systems," says Lyn McDermid, chief information officer of Virginia Power in Richmond, Virginia. "As a result of that, we've eliminated quite a few redundant applications, and we eliminated systems that were obsolete. That should reduce our support costs.
"We were also able to introduce some new technology and jump-start our Web development," McDermid adds. "We feel that we really did get ancillary benefits from Y2K."
Similarly, Prudential Insurance created strategic inventories of its software, hardware and business partners. Irene Dec, Prudential's Y2K program manager, says these inventories will allow the financial services giant, headquartered in Newark, New Jersey, to move faster in adopting computing standards, which will in turn simplify software development, management and maintenance.
"Our senior IS management now can get a complete view of our current computing environment and our software development," Dec says. "So they can accurately plan how to move forward with changes."
These inventories are especially valuable for corporate networks, which tend to grow like kudzu.
"Corporate networks were all looked at very carefully and cleaned up," says Tom Oleson, research director and IT advisor at International Data Corp., a market research firm in Framingham, Massachusetts. "This will make it easier for companies to move onto the Internet and create e-commerce-type activities."
Another positive outcome of Y2K is that companies have analyzed and prioritized their business systems and created disaster-recovery plans.
"Y2K opened up a lot of eyes as to how large our network is and that it provides a lot of functionality," says Mike Green, a senior messaging analyst with Thomson Financial in Boston. "We had to consider what we would do if everything fell on its face. It forced us to consider our policies, procedures and documentation."
Thomson considered disaster recovery when it recently migrated to a Microsoft Exchange system with distributed management capabilities. "We structured it in such a way that any one of our major sites can run the whole show," Green explains. "If we get a snowstorm like the Blizzard of '78, folks in the U.K. or Australia could get into my environment and manage it."
Another benefit of the Y2K experience is that many organizations tightened up their procedures for testing applications, systems and interoperability. This should allow IT departments to deliver higher-quality software, on time and at lower cost.
"We've put in place better testing processes and more independent testing and verification because of Y2K," says Bill Robertson, Year 2000 program manager at the American Red Cross.
Virginia Power will now get a broader view of its systems thanks to the Y2K effort, according to McDermid.
"We'll be a lot more tuned in to looking at the overall impact of how systems integrate with each other," McDermid says. "We always looked at systems from a transaction perspective. But because our environment is so highly complex, there's very little in one application that doesn't have an effect somewhere else."
In coordinating Y2K remediation efforts, IT staffs gained valuable experience with project management tools that will be put to use in the future.
Prudential, for example, created a special council to document best practices and set standards for project management across the company. Virginia Power will use the same project management organization from its Y2K effort to coordinate a merger with Consolidated Natural Gas of Pittsburgh that is expected to close Jan. 28.
The Y2K coordination efforts have led to better working relationships for IT departments, within their organizations and with suppliers and partners.
"One of the benefits of the Y2K experience is that it helped build a sense of team," says Robertson. "We had the whole organization working on this issue, not just the IT shop."