The Booming Business in Marking The Millenium

The two-digit date fields in most databases today will cause 90 percent of business applications to fail in 1999 because of invalid date computations

Kevin Schick started thinking about the new millennium back in 1988. He wasn't alone. Mortgage companies saw the potential problem in the 21st century when they began processing 30-year loans in the 1970s. Many of them, unfortunately, solved the problem with quick fixes -- only to find themselves in the same predicament in the 1980s and in this decade.

The problem Schick, the mortgage lenders and even the Social Security Administration caught early involved computer systems built in the 1970s. To save precious, costly storage space, programmers created databases with date fields that only allowed two digits to identify a year - 95 for 1995, for instance.

The problem spread into software applications based on the two-digit value. Even when relational database management products became available, organizations chose not to change the date field in the databases and applications because of cost.

Schick, research director for applications development and management at the Gartner Group, believes 20 percent of business applications will fail this year because of invalid date computations. If organizations do not take corrective action, his estimate increases to more than 90 percent by 1999. Application failure, Schick said, includes programs ending abnormally, or worse, returning incorrect results.

For example, a system calculates a person's age by subtracting the individual's birth year from a given year: 95 - 35 = 60 years old. To calculate the same person's age in the year 2000, the equation, using the two-digit date field, would look like this: 00 - 35 = -35. The year 2000 crisis has created a booming, worldwide market for infotech companies. The size of the market ranges from Schick's conservative $100 billion estimate to astronomic figures such as $500 billion.

The problem affects applications that rely on dates, such as payroll systems; dates for planning purposes, such as shipping order systems; or do calculations based on dates, such as decision support systems. Although many of the older systems run on mainframes, the problem exists regardless of application age, hardware platform and user interface.

"This is very real. It is an unprecedented event. It is the very first time the infotech industry must do something and do it by a specific time," he said. The alternative to not fixing the problem, Schick pointed out, is going out of business.

With organizations forced to correct the date field, many have chosen to turn to infotech companies for help. For a medium-sized company with about 8,000 programs, the cost to fix the problem internally ranges from $3.6 to $4.2 million, Schick estimated. The estimate, he said, assumes a company can dedicate for one year a 24-person team to search manually for date fields in every line of programming code or have 12 people using automated tools to fix the problem.

The need to address the year 2000 crisis has created an array of infotech companies, including tool providers, professional services companies and management consultants, interested in getting a piece of the new business. Although the initial market reaction is to get tools such as those marketed by Viasoft, Adpac and Compuware for a quick fix to the problem, Schick said the trend has shifted toward services, leading Viasoft to team with Coopers & Lybrand.

The service trend spells good news for companies such as CapGemini, James Martin & Co. and Computer Horizons Corp. Computer Horizons' Signature 2000 combines the company's management services and a proprietary software tool kit that identifies the two-digit year formats and replaces them with new four-digit date fields.

John Sisto, president of the company's Horizons Consulting Inc. subsidiary, said, "It is estimated that 90 percent of all programs and applications run dates through them. Without the proper field expansion in the date field, all the calculations made regarding the year 2000 and beyond will be wrong."

For 10 years, New Jersey-based Computer Horizons had a group that focused on the modernization and migration of old mainframe-centric systems into the client/server distributed processing age. The Signature 2000 offering grew out of the group's work, said David Reingold, corporate vice president for strategic services and marketing.

Although Computer Horizons focuses primarily on Fortune 500 companies, "we believe the government market, in this instance, can be as large if not larger than the commercial market," he explained. In fact, Reingold soon expects to set up an alliance with a company that has significant federal business.


Adpac - System Vision 2000

Cap Gemini - tool and services

Compuware - Xpediter Xchange

Computer Horizons Corp. - Signature 2000

Coopers & Lybrand

Data Dimensions

IBM Integrated Systems Solutions Corp.

Isogon - TicToc

James Martin & Co. - TSRM and services

Micro Focus - Revolve

KPMG Peat Marwick


Viasoft - Enterprise 2000

Source: Gartner Group

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