Preparing for y2k not a wasted effort : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Web posted Tuesday, February 8, 2000 5:36 a.m. CT

The Economist: Preparing for Y2K not a wasted effort

By M. Ray Perryman

Leave it to the pessimists of this world. On Jan. 1, we passed with flying colors the most daunting test of our global computer systems. If you were one of the millions of Americans watching CNN with some degree of fear and trepidation, you witnessed beautiful images of island sunrises, spectacular fireworks, and hordes of people celebrating the rate event of a new millennium.

What you did not see as the clock struck twelve were the massive computer system shutdowns so many conditioned us to fear. The oil kept flowing in the pipelines of Saudi; the missiles stayed put in the silos of Russia. I viewed the festivities from the pyramids of Giza, and there was not even a hint of the end of the world.

The issue was not so much that the whole infrastructure we depend on would come crashing down around us at the very second the new year arrived.

Rather, the problem was that the changing of the millennium would bring about the possibility of vast numbers of computer glitches in cases where susceptibility to the bug was not fully tested or handled. Due to extensive preparation, few major catastrophes were caused by the change of the year from 1999 to 2000.

So, did we find headlines across the country and around the globe, proclaiming the success of our diligent Y2K efforts? Some. But many others tried to spin the crisis as a big hoax, a conspiracy by computer people to charge enormous bills. Estimates of worldwide spending approach $600 billion.

According to the Commerce Department, total Y2K bug fixing in the United States was $100 billion; other estimates place the figure even higher. The Federal government alone spent in excess of $8.4 billion.

Some criticized the level of spending, saying the United States spent too much on something that turned out to be nothing. But could we have afforded not to?

Most of the federal government's money went to two departments - treasury and defense. I don't know about you, but I'm glad for every penny spent to avoid an accidental World War III.

I'm glad our defense systems remained at the ready on the stroke of midnight; I'm also thankful the system of payments never missed a beat. And don't forget: we're talking about the federal government. Billions are spent on far less crucial challenges each year.

Although some analysts estimate the United States spent some $30-$40 billion "too much" on Y2K, others note that fixing the computer bug had multiple benefits. Any investment in systems upgrades almost certainly will add to overall productivity and efficiency.

Moreover, most corporation and government agencies agree that it's better to have spent a little too much than to not see the problem solved.

Some experts said we won't know the full extent of the problem for months, and only about 10 percent of all problems were expected to occur on the actual rollover date. One key date is Feb. 29, a leap year day representing the exception to the exception in determining whether a year should be a leap year.

An industry leader recently estimated that 60 percent to 70 percent of the world's computer systems have yet to be fully used since the new year began. A programmer by the name of Lane Core said it best - "Y2K is not a one-time event. It's a chronic condition." Anytime you change a computer code, you run the risk of introducing new problems.

As I predicted last spring, the country saw a spurt of capital spending in 1999, some notable inventory accumulation in the last quarter, a few minor headaches and nuisances, and no major disruptions.

I didn't buy any disaster food; I didn't feel compelled to say home or even in the country; I didn't sell any stocks on the last trading day of 1999. I did, however, believe there was the potential for a problem. The Perryman Group's offices and computer systems were Y2K-proofed from top to bottom well in advance of Jan. 1.

Was it wisdom or waste? Those of you around the state and around the world who spent the time and money to review, rethink and retool your computer systems will find the investment paying for itself.

Without the impetus of the potential Y2K issue, many companies would have continued to piecemeal solutions rather than scrapping aging systems and starting over.

There were some expenses not likely to pay out in the future, such as overtime for staff who spent the weekend waiting for calamities that - thankfully - never happened.

However, I believe the vast majority of the dollars spent and time invested will pay dividends for many tomorrows.

M. Ray Perryman is president and chief executive officer of The Perryman Group ( He also serves as institute distinguished professor of economic theory and method at the International Institute for Advanced Studies

-- Martin Thompson (, February 08, 2000

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