Year 2000 Puts CIOs on Hot Seat

Year 2000 Puts CIOs on Hot Seat

Charles Gerhards

By Steve LeSueur, Staff Writer

Don Heiman, chief information officer for the state of Kansas, realized the year 2000 issue had put his office under the microscope when state legislators on a joint oversight committee quizzed him for more than four hours about computer codes, Cobol and routers.

"You don't usually see the committee looking at that level of detail. That tells you their level of concern," he said, referring to a Dec. 1 meeting of statewide legislators on the Joint Committee on Information Technology.

Heiman's experience highlights the political pressure facing many state CIOs, who must juggle the demands of making necessary year 2000 software fixes with the need to move forward on other information technology projects.

"The CIOs are wary of doing anything that would make it appear that they are taking Y2K too lightly," said Tom Davies, senior vice president of Federal Sources Inc., McLean, Va. "Their political bosses, especially legislators, are closely scrutinizing their efforts."

The year 2000 glitch results from a shortcut computer programmers took many years ago when they decided to use only two digits to identify the year. Unless the computer code in older programs and systems is fixed, computers could mistakenly read the year 2000 as the year 1900.

Kansas actually got a jump on the Y2K problem and began its work in 1995, said Heiman. By early March, about 75 percent of the state's mission critical applications had been repaired.

Consequently, the state has been able to push ahead with some major replacement projects, such as modernizing its tax processes with a new system that will be completed next year.

But Heiman also decided not to start any significant IT projects this year.

"I'm not aware of a single CIO, public or commercial, that hasn't put off an application project because of Y2K," said Heiman.

Utah CIO Dave Moon said 72 percent of his state's systems have been remediated and tested. He expects all the mission critical systems to meet the state's July 1 deadline for compliance.

Like Kansas, Utah has initiated some new projects and postponed others. While the state already has built some electronic licensing systems, Moon said he wants to move quickly to get more services online in the year 2000.

"There's a lot of appetite for electronic commerce," he said. "I think we would have seen a lot of progress if we hadn't been focused on Y2K."

About half of Utah's $100 million annual IT budget is being spent on year 2000-related projects, he said.

Pennsylvania has been one of the most aggressive states in pressing forward with new IT projects while attending to Y2K issues.

"We went to the governor and told him we wanted to move forward on a parallel track with Y2K and other projects, and he supported us all the way," said Thomas Paese, secretary of administration, whose office oversees information technology.

Within the past three years, the state has initiated a $132 million Link-to-Learn education program; awarded Microsoft a $23 million contract to standardize all of the government agencies to Microsoft's software; and selected Unisys Corp., Blue Bell, Pa., for a $400 million project to consolidate and manage the state's data centers.

At the same time, the state has been remediating and testing its systems to make them Y2K compliant. Pennsylvania CIO Charles Gerhards said that 99.8 percent of the state's systems already have been corrected and tested.

While year 2000 problems have caused a diversion of IT resources, the impact has not been all bad. Heiman said that Y2K has nudged his state into gathering an accurate inventory of its computers, software and systems and improving the state's documentation standards and tracking systems for its projects. It also has brought the state's agencies together to plan strategy.

"I think Y2K gave our office higher visibility and created a climate to do statewide IT enterprise architecture," said Heiman. "We couldn't have done that four or five years ago."

Both Heiman and Moon also said that addressing Y2K issues has given them the opportunity to replace many legacy systems.

"We have taken a replace, rather than remediate, approach to Y2K," said Moon.

As the year 2000 approaches, state officials know that unforeseen problems and complications can arise even in programs that have been pronounced compliant. Companies that sell independent validation and verification software for Y2K have said that their tools are finding dozens of errors in computer programs that supposedly were fixed.

Consequently, even in Pennsylvania, which is approaching 100 percent compliance, state officials are hesitant to appear overconfident.

"We still want our agencies to focus on Y2K," said Gerhards. "If we declare victory, we'll take our eye off the ball."

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