The Year 2000

By now I am certain you have heard a great deal about the Year 2000 crisis, a significant technological challenge. The "Y2K" problem was originally viewed as an information technology problem exclusively. Now it is viewed nationwide as a problem for entire campuses, governments, and businesses because it affects almost every aspect of university and corporate life, including the reliability of information used to make decisions.

This is the first time all users of information technology face a single problem at the same time. The year 2000 will bring a host of problems related to programs that record the year using only the last two digits and will affect almost all software applications and systems. The cost of tackling the problem in computer systems worldwide may reach into the billions of dollars.

The Year 2000 crisis will not occur only on January 1, 2000. Anytime addition, subtraction, data sorting, or any other calculation is performed that includes both the years 19XX and 20XX, failure can occur—in any system requiring timed events (e.g., environmental controls, elevators, medical equipment) and all information based on time that recognizes 00 as 1900 and not 2000.

The examples of applications affected by Y2K are endless: When will your driver's license expire? When will your credit card expire? When will a drug no longer be safe? When should a machine undergo regular maintenance? When was a specific product built? How long has a particular invoice been overdue? Has a subscription expired? All of these calculations are based on a date, and if the computer does not know what date it is, then accurate calculations are impossible.

Let me bring this down to the level of our university. Over the past several years CSU, Chico computer personnel have worked diligently with our central computing systems. We recently achieved a major accomplishment when the IBM mainframe's operating system was upgraded to a Year 2000-compliant version. The University's Enterprise Systems Committee has appointed a team to monitor Year 2000 compliance issues and their effect on Chico State technology and personnel and to offer guidance for the implementation of changes. Information Resources is coordinating the effort, which requires the full cooperation of all levels of staff and management to become Year 2000-compliant. Individual departments and units are responsible for assuring compliance in their own areas.

The principal questions the team will address include

• What are the size and scope of the problems still remaining at Chico State?

• What strategies will the University employ to resolve the conflicts: scrap, replace, or fix?

• What is the likely overall cost of the project and where will funds be obtained?

• What resources will be required in terms of systems, staff, and training?

• What are the implications to faculty, staff, and students, and how will we ensure compliance of all processors and computer systems?

• What are the implications for normal systems development and maintenance while conversion and compliance activities are taking place?

• What tools and techniques are available?

Information Resources has developed a Year 2000 Web page for CSU, Chico that will be updated as new information becomes available. The Web page includes campus lists of compliant hardware and software, links to other Year 2000 sites, and e-mail for questions related to compliance issues. The Web address is:

My hope, of course, is that we will soon have answers to all of the questions raised above and, more importantly, that we will be able to move quickly to ensure that we will be able to continue to offer an excellent education to our students. If we do our job well, no one will ever be aware of the significant challenge we faced.

Manuel A. Esteban

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