It is January 2020,
1. You receive the credit card bill showing a billion dollars as you are overdue by 99 years on your pending credit payment of $1000.00 from previous months, and the credit card has been cancelled
2. Your attempt to renew the insurance on your 3 year old car is denied stating that you own a 97 year old car
3. The last trade you did on Dec 31, 2019 is suddenly being shown as overdue for 99 years on Jan 2nd 2020, and the account has been disabled
4. The check deposited in your bank account after the work-shift on Dec 31, 2019 is returned as elapsed, as the check is over 99 years old
Consumers may face these potential scenarios due to the solution many companies implemented during the Year 2000 resolution that will arise like the legendary phoenix.
The underlying “error”, was the way programs were written in the early eras of computing, when storage was extremely expensive. Programmers focused on writing tightly packed code to ensure that space was saved. One of the common methods was to save the two bytes of storage by not putting in the century part and using the 2-digit year format. The early programmers never expected that their programs would last 20 years; leave alone 30, 40, or 50 years.
To address the Y2K problem, multiple solution options were implemented by IT organizations based on the time they initiated their Year 2000 Program.
The early birds either expanded the 2-digit year to 4-digit year (Six digit date to eight digit date format), or rewrote their applications completely.
The later ones implemented the windowing solution. They took an approach of creating a window of 100 years by developing the logic to assume the first window as “19” century and the second window as “20” century. Example, if a company has incorporated a modified “Pareto Rule” window solution of 80/20 solution, if 21 appears the program interprets it as 1921, and for the year 18 it interprets as 2018. Though other windows like 75/25, 60/40 & 50/50 were implemented the predominant was the 80/20 rule.
The other reasons that influenced the decision in many companies to choose windowing was the additional effort involved in migrating the data stored in flat files. At that time, nascent technologies like the web, distributed services, mobile, device computing & new products looking to overwhelm the earlier monolithic applications, the management assumed that all their applications would be replaced or retired way before the Year 2020.
Break from the past
The windowing solution implemented in many companies has given them a second opportunity to replace their existing IT systems. These companies, today, have better options for their migration/rewrite compared to those early birds during the Y2K. With over 4 years ahead of them, companies can look forward to do a gradual changeover and at the same time make the system future-ready. This provides an opportunity for IT to lead, instead of play catch-up with businesses.
Companies should leverage this opportunity to break away from the past and look forward to long-term solutions aligning with strategic corporate goals by rewriting the applications using technologies like cloud, device computing and mobile.
The biggest challenge would be to get management acceptance even to perform an impact analysis especially after the Post-Year 2000 backlash against the doomsayers.
The second challenge is the computing environment has become a lot more complicated than it was 20 years ago. Companies are running old code in new environments; the applications have been distributed across platforms; and the core applications have become a “black box” with virtual environments (or wrappers).
The third challenge would be getting resources conversant with the legacy applications as most of these applications have skeleton staff doing routine maintenance.
The final challenge would be the constant struggle to meet the extremely dynamic nature of business, and finding the funding to revisit an old problem.
To overcome these challenges, if the companies commence on their journey today, they should be able to adjust their regular development and maintenance budgets to rewrite these applications to ensure their business objectives and at the same time make their applications future ready.
Nevertheless, to avoid the Armageddon, Start Early.