First Y2K, now E-Titanic

WASHINGTON (03/21/2000) - An information technology crisis is coming that will dwarf the Year 2000 problem in cost and disruption, according to technology expert Rich Lysakowski. Look out for electronic document migration.

Today's electronic documents will become unreadable as new hardware and software systems are developed and old ones are abandoned. To prevent uselessness, electronic documents must be migrated to formats that will be readable by tomorrow's computer systems.

The task of migrating documents and the cost of information lost from documents not migrated will amount to "hundreds of trillions of dollars over the next 30 to 40 years," Lysakowski predicted.

The international effort to keep computers operating through the Year 2000 date change cost about $750 billion, said Lysakowski, who is executive director of the Collaborative Electronic Notebook System Association. Lysakowski has christened the looming migration problem "Titanic 2020," and expects migration costs in 2020 to become oppressive.

To illustrate the problem and its costs, Lysakowski referred to when Microsoft Corp.'s word processing program, Word 6, was replaced by Word 7. Documents written in Word 7 cannot be read by machines still using Word 6. The Word 7 document must be converted into Word 6, or the Word 6 machine must upgrade to Word 7.

Lysakowski said it cost $50 billion between 1995 and 1998 as people struggled with the transition.

The problem and cost could be minimized if IT users agreed on a common format for electronic documents. Some agencies have selected Adobe Systems Inc.'s Portable Document Format for documents they plan to keep for a long time. But PDF is not adequate for complex documents such as certain scientific material, Lysakowski said.

Many electronic records managers are counting on the Internet language XML to become the standard. "XML is a shining star on the horizon," Lysakowski said.

"But the problem with a star is it never touches the ground. We're always running toward the horizon."

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