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IS issues a Year 2000 call to action

Last fall, the MIT Year 2000 Assessment Team conducted hundreds of interviews to determine MIT's computer-related readiness for the year 2000. Fortunately, many people are actively working on the "Y2K problem," but even at this late date, others have not started thinking about it.

The Assessment Team, focusing on central administrative systems, learned that the Controller's Accounting Office, Information Systems, Personnel, Payroll and Student Services are among the offices working on projects to achieve Year 2000 compliance. Other administrative systems will solve the Y2K problem by replacing their current systems with SAP, which is compliant.

Every office and individual at MIT should examine their systems for potential Y2K problems. Anyone who uses a computer or anything containing a computer could be affected by the change of centuries. Some examples:

  • A long-running lab experiment still going on when January 1, 2000 comes along might stop because microprocessors fail or a computer "thinks" the experiment has been running a negative number of years.
  • Someone doing simple age calculations in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or FileMaker database might get incorrect results because some years that should be in the 1900s are treated as dates in the 2000s.
  • Programs that clean up old data might mistakenly erase recent data because it is not clear how old the data are.
  • An old PC might set the date to 1980 or some earlier year when 2000 arrives.
  • Some vendor software might not function when using 2000 dates, so users might need to pay for upgrades. Even new technologies like WindowsNT and JavaScript can have problems.
  • If you rely on some old software that someone who's long gone from your department has written, you might not have the source code or know how to fix the software. If it doesn't work with 2000 dates, you could have a big problem.

Realizing there might be trouble ahead isn't enough; computer users sbould not delay taking action. Systems could fail prior to January 1, 2000 (once years beyond 1999 are used). And the date when systems could fail is an immoveable date, even if one's project is behind schedule. Finally, computer programming resources are becoming more and more scarce due to the universal nature of the Y2K problem.

What should computer users do? First, find out if someone in your area is working on the problem. Each office is responsible for addressing and resolving any Year 2000 problems. Next, consult MIT's Project Year 2000 web site for resources including hardware and software compliance information. Questions may also be addressed to MIT Year 2000 Project hotline at x3-2000.

This document is a "Year 2000 Readiness Disclosure" as defined in the Year 2000 Information and Readiness Disclosure Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-271, 112 Stat. 2386).

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 6, 1998.

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