"Y2K - Are You Ready?"

[Column #51, 3/99]

My MIS Director often talks incessantly in that computer lingo that is more foreign to me than if he were standing there speaking to me in Latin. So when he started spewing out all this stuff about preparing for Y2K last year, I have to admit, whether it was ignorance or the blind faith I have learned to give him, I didn’t pay much attention. Sure, I’d heard all about this Y2K thing in seminars and on the news but why, after all, would it affect a trade bindery that much? It seemed to me there were many other industries, like banks and airlines, that had better be scrambling faster than us to get ready for this big event.

Knowing that I respond much better to action than words, he finally dragged me into his office one day and forced me to watch him change the clock on his computer to December 31, 1999, 11:59 P.M. Then he asked me what date I thought would come up when that final minute was over. I just watched, and lo and behold, January 1, 2000, popped up on the screen a minute later. “See,” I said, “No problem, now leave me alone.” He then asked me what date I thought would come up on the mailing and imaging computers out on the plant floor when subjected to the same test. Knowing this was a trick question, I shrugged my shoulders. He then told me they flip over to a brand spanking new date of January 4, 1980 (and that other equally strange dates, including the year 1900, have popped up all over the plant floor). What?? That’s crazy! And then I realized, of course his works, he’s the MIS Director! He’s got the best computer in the building. Now I understood what he was talking about. The implications are scary, to say the least-and I was ready to listen.

Because every department in our building is run with computers, I began to understand the size of this problem. With all those whacky old dates flooding the system, we would definitely be in for disaster. How many banks out there would cash checks dated January 6, 1900? How would our scheduling department know what jobs are due when? How would our vendors ever get paid? Or worse yet, would that mean our customers didn’t have to pay us for 100 years?! And then there’s the problem that would occur when our software would recognize newer files as being dated older than the older files¾did you ever see that message “Overwrite newer file with older version?” Or how about our utilities? Without any electricity, I guess we better get out our old museum equipment and fire it up. And the place would be even colder than usual without any heat. What about our computerized switchboard? It would most certainly go haywire making it impossible to communicate with our customers.

Upgrading all of our hardware by replacing motherboards in the vast majority of our system is the first step we took to prepare for Y2K. Some, because of the age of the equipment or the complex work they do, will have to be replaced altogether. We must pay particularly close attention to the computers that run our ink-jet imaging and mailing department because the entire process is done electronically. The hardware/software currently in use by that division would render the data files from our customers next year unusable. Mailing and imaging is one of our fastest growing services-it is imperative we fix the problem now.

The next step is to be sure all our vendors (and other companies we deal with) are also prepared. It is our responsibility to ensure that everyone we deal with will be able to service our needs just as quickly and accurately as they have in the past. What happens, for example, next January, in the heart of annual report season, when our glue suppliers can’t meet the incredible demands we make on them each year? I don’t even want to try and imagine the problems that could occur. The outside materials required to run a post-press finishing house are astronomical. We would literally be at a standstill without those supplies.

Conversely, we have received many requests from our customers and other companies we deal with for written proof that we are Y2K compliant. As a result, we have developed a Y2K compliancy statement that we send out in reply. I’ve been told by our legal counsel that Y2K lawsuits are already occurring and it is critical to be prepared-and to protect yourself now. In many cases, we received forms from those companies requesting us to sign off on their compliancy statement. Our form was created in lieu of signing those statements both to respond to their request and to protect ourselves.

On the upside, we have made progress in our preparation for the new millennium and feel confident we will be ready. The computer world, meanwhile, continues to explode offering more awesome ways to do business every day. We now have a corporate intranet allowing all our employees access to such things as company memos and announcements, our three websites, and our quality management system.

The latter of these is extremely important because it houses all the information necessary for ISO-9002 compliancy. The forms are updated electronically and our employees browse them as needed. In addition, employees can access any of the ISO procedures and forms necessary (and believe me, there are many) to ensure compliancy and fill them out online. We are also working to expand our in-house system that currently allows employees to check on the status of jobs and make this same information available to our customers in a secure manner. (Scary thought, huh?)

Whatever the outcome of Y2K, computers continue to baffle and amaze me.