by CIO Knowledge Space

Y2K Redux

Feb 12, 20074 mins

It’s beginning to feel like 1999 again. Remember when the world was going to end on midnight December 31st and you spent half your time telling the CEO precisely what you were or weren’t going to do about it?

This time, most CEO’s aren’t asking questions, but they should. If I’ve figured this out right, most of the US will go on to Daylight Savings Time at 2 AM on March 11th instead of the previous April date. At first blush, this doesn’t rise to the level of concern that Y2K did. But the times, they’ve been a changin’.

Our systems are integrated more fully and with more complex interactions than ever before. And while personal technology was certainly widespread in 1999, now it seems that everyone carries a PDA, Smartphone, or other device that synchronizes calendars, and, in some industries, these portable devices are a key component of business processes. We’ve had problems at my location when, apparently due to some programming error, users in the vicinity of a particular cell tower got their time zones changed to Beijing time (we’re located in California, USA, not California, China).

On an individual level, that only caused a lot of missed appointments as meetings disappeared from people’s calendars (at least in the times of day they were looking at!), but it created a significant load on our help desk and required a lot of detective work on our part before we figured it out, and then a lot of work to convince the cell phone provider that there was a problem that they needed to fix. And of course the users blamed IT.

Will the cell phone providers handle the new changes properly? Will things work consistently everywhere? Will some devices work properly and others not? These issues will not bring the world to an end as Y2K was widely advertised of being capable of, but they will put a strain on your help desk, desk top support group, telecom group, et al., and while your server group is busy installing the patches that will handle the new time change centrally, you’ll be at the mercy of vendors who may or may not be totally prepared.

At the same time, Vista is here, as is Office 2007. We’ll, mostly here. As of this writing, Microsoft hasn’t yet delivered the software need to manage license keys on an enterprise level as is pretty much required. Of course, many enterprises will be able to control the timetable for adoption of these products until they are tested, all 3rd party applications work, internal documentation is developed, etc.

I work at a university, and we don’t have that luxury. Students are already showing up with Vista-powered notebooks, and faculty won’t be far behind. Early experience shows that our wireless network products don’t yet support Vista (this is Cisco, not a niche player). From a faculty/staff side, that doesn’t really matter, as it turns out that on the notebooks we use, HP doesn’t yet have Vista drivers for the wireless adapters anyway.

I’ve named names not to play a blame game, but to point out that if vendors this prominent aren’t ready, what’s going on in the rest of the industry?  Pulling everything together, the point isn’t that any of these issues are likely to create the kind of mayhem we anticipated in Y2K, but, taken together, daylight savings time, Vista, and Office 2007 are going to put an enormous strain on our help desks and on our technical staffs, as well as create a lot of frustrated users.

We need to be extremely proactive, not only in testing and fixing problems, but in getting guidance out to our users. If we fail to mobilize and fail to inform, then while our enterprises may take less of a hit than they might have withY2K, our IT organizations may take a bigger one.

– Rich Kogut

Rich Kogut is Associate Vice Chancellor and CIO at the University of California, Merced. The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of UC Merced.