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A Saner View of Y2K

This is an interview of Brad Whitworth, Hewlett Packard Y2K communications manager, by Jack D. Deal, the owner of the Deal Consulting Group and publisher of Solutions E-Zine. Related articles can be found at 

JD: In your view, what is the single most important aspect of Y2K? 

BW: By tackling Y2K issues, companies have been making an important investment for the next century as they closely examine every aspect of their operations. Certainly Y2K is about avoiding computing problems that might crop up, but it's just as much about becoming more competitive for the next century. In making Y2K preparations, organizations have had to look at more than their information technology investments. They've had to look at their supply chain, the readiness of their suppliers, their facilities, their business processes… everything. Those companies that have found issues, and not just with Y2K, and have fixed them, will find that they have a real competitive edge in the years ahead. 

JD: In your view, what is the most overrated aspect of Y2K? 

BW: Clearly the gloom-and-doom horror stories. There will certainly be problems related to Y2K; we've already seen some of them pop up as companies have been finishing their Y2K testing. But none of these have come close to the dire predictions of the end of the world that some of the Y2K extremists are proposing. And when you compare the likely impact of Y2K to the very real impact that, for example, the earthquake in Taiwan has had on human lives, Y2K isn't in the same league. 

JD: How will the Y2K issue affect the average person? 

BW: In North America, the impact is likely to be negligible. I believe the Y2K consultants who say that ATMs will work, football bowl games will take place, the phones will work and power will be available. But it's still prudent to see what kind of exposure you have in your own life to Y2K issues and to take adequate steps to get ready. For example, if you run a small business that depends on computers for appointments, billing and accounting, you'd better make sure your computer hardware and software are ready for Y2K. But if you have a PC at home that you use simply for surfing the Web and sending e-mail messages, you probably won't feel the effects of Y2K at all.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't make adequate personal preparations. I live in a part of the country that's prone to earthquakes. The kind of preparations to get my family and my home ready for earthquakes is the same kind of work I have done at home for Y2K. I'd probably do something different if I live in Quebec or in Singapore because I would face a lot of different issues dealing with everything from food to water to heat. 

JD: How will financial markets be affected by Y2K? 

BW: The financial markets have already reacted to Y2K. Look at IBM's October announcement about third-quarter sales. Let's face it; the markets will react every day to something. But most economists, including HP's, are saying that the long-term economic impact of Y2K will be minimal. I think that savvy investors know that. That doesn't mean that some companies and some industries and some geographies won't do better than others. That happens every day. But I think we'll see more of an impact on the world's economy in the short term from the Taiwanese earthquake than we will from Y2K.  

JD : How do I best protect my personal and business computers from Y2K problems? 

BW: Preparation is key. First, you have to determine if you have any hardware or software that has known Y2K problems. Check with the manufacturer and they'll tell you, either on their Web site or by calling their support centers. If you do have a problem, you can usually fix it with a simple patch. And almost all of those patches or updates that I know of are free. The smartest people will look at Y2K preparation before

1999 runs out. Then there'll be lots of procrastinators who won't think about addressing YK until after it bites them. I think I would rather be dealing with people and businesses in the first category than those in the second category. 

JD : When January 1, 2000 rolls around, how will I know if I have a Y2K problem? 

BW: You may not know right away. One of the biggest misconceptions floating around about Y2K is what I call the "Cinderella Syndrome." Some people expect that at the stroke of midnight on December 31st that everything with a Y2K problem will go up in smoke or simply cease functioning. That's not what's going to happen.

What's much more likely is that we will see minor, irritating problems popping up in the days, weeks and even months after the start of the year. It may be a monthly report that shows evidence of corrupt data. Or it may be a calculation of interest payments that's off because of date-related problems. These are the kinds of problems that can often be spotted ahead of Y2K and fixed with the updates that manufacturers provide.  

JD: Are you, as an individual, taking any special precautions for Y2K? 

BW: Certainly. In fact, we're telling all of HP's 125,000 employees around the world that they ought to take reasonable precautions for Y2K, just as they might prepare at home for an earthquake, a typhoon or a bad winter storm. We've distributed personal preparation checklists that look a lot like the Y2K lists distributed by the Red Cross. Because so many of our employees work from their homes a day or more a week, we've also given them a checklist to make sure their "office away from the office" is ready for Y2K. We really want our employees, our company and our customers to be ready for anything that Y2K might bring them. 

JD: What are you telling those closest to you to do about Y2K?  

BW: Prepare for the worst, but expect the best. So much of what happens with Y2K will depend entirely upon where you sit in the world and what sort of Y2K preparation work has been done around you. The experts say that those of us in North America are probably in better shape than people in South America and Africa. But even in those countries that might have more Y2K problems, Y2K still may not be a critical problem because people don't rely on technology as heavily as we do here in North America.


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