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What is the Year 2000 Problem?
Discussed in computing circles for many years, the “year 2000 problem” (or Y2K) awareness has started to spread, but there is still much lack of recognition. What is it and where did it come from?
In the early days of computing, memory and disk space were scarce and expensive. Thus, programmers got in the habit of using only two digits to represent the year in dates. The computer program then automatically assumed the first two digits of the date to be 19. Thus, 71 in a date would be treated as 1971. That’s fine until we get to years beyond 1999. Enter 01 in many programs and they are likely to assume you mean 1901 instead of 2001. This could play havoc with all sorts of computations, especially those involving future money payments and age calculations.
Most large businesses by now have at least some awareness of the year 2000 problem, but many small businesses and professional practices may not. Dr. Leon Kappelman suggests that businesses in reacting to this problem go through initial stages much like someone being told they have a terminal disease: awareness, denial, anger, bargaining and finally acceptance. Unfortunately, for many entities stuck in denial, it may be terminal. Large businesses with complex systems that have not started dealing with the problem may find it too late. Small businesses and professional practices may still have time to deal with it. This article gives suggestions for treating it.
Testing for Year 2000 Problems
The first step in testing for year 2000 compliance is to check the computer clock. You would expect that most PCs bought in recent years would handle the date changeover without any trouble. However, this may not be the case. You should check every computer used by your office to see if it will handle it. (Just to be safe, back up the hard drive before you do this.) Go to the DOS prompt and type “date.” At new date, enter 12-31-99. Then type “time” and at new time enter 11:59pm. Wait a little over a minute and type “date” again. It should tell you that the date is Saturday, 1-1-2000. Next, turn your computer off and then back on. Check the date again. Does it still say 2000? When I did this on my computerwhoops!it reverted to 1980.
A bit concerned, I explored the consequences. In my case, nothing seriousI would have to enter the correct date each time I restart the computer. However, if you have programs that automatically load when the computer starts, you could have trouble. One of them could pick up the wrong date and do strange things, like deleting files or messages that it works with. The manager of one chiropractic office I worked with commented that depending on every office user to enter the correct date would be too uncertain. She needs the dates to work right without resetting.
Next enter a date in 2001. Does the date change to that date OK? (It probably won’t if you just enter 01, but it should take 2001.) While you’re at it, check for a somewhat related problem. Set the date for February 28, 2000, and the time for 11:59pm. Does it then roll over to February 29? Some don’t recognize that the year 2000 is a leap year. (Don’t forget to change the date and time back to the current date and time when you’re through testing.) If your office is large enough to be using minicomputers, these of course, need checking as well.
The next step is to check the software used by your office. Set the date to sometime in the year 2000. (Again remember to back up all your files before any testing.) While you have the date changed, go to any application software that includes a date function and try it out. (This requires careful consideration some applications at first glance don’t seem to use dates, but actually do.)
In your accounting program try such things as entering a new employee (born, for example, in 1977); then check if the program handles payroll calculations properly. Record purchases to determine if it treats accounts payable and inventory correctly. Then enter enough trial data (patient charges, expenses, etc.) to generate end-of-month, end-of-quarter and year-end reports.
Next, recheck your accounting system by setting the date sometime in November, 1999. Will your system handle dates into 2000? Especially try transactions involving accounts receivable, accounts payable and notes payable. Then re-enter a January, 2000 date. Do the transactions entered in 1999 display correctly? In one system I helped check, patient accounts originating in 1999 showed up as current in 2000 although several months old.
Besides your accounting program, what other software do you use, e.g., patient database, word processing and spreadsheets? (I was pleased to find that my old WordStar word processor that I still use the most could still put in year 2000 dates automatically.) If you use a database, you need to check not only that it will handle dates properly, but that any data files have years stored in four digit form, not as two digits.
If your computer passes these tests, you should have no problem with your office systems. However, for purchased packages you are using, you should request written assurances of year 2000 compliance even if no problems showed up in your testing. Note that vendor assurances are not sufficient without testing.
Another area that may need attention is that of embedded computer chips. Many devices these days depend on such chips to function properly and some of these are date-dependent. For example, does your security system operation differ by day of the week? Is the day of the week derived from a calendar function? You may need considerable thought to identify everything that might be affected.
Correcting the Problems
If problems appeared during the testing, what are the courses of action available? For purchased packages, see if the vendor has a year 2000 compliant upgrade available or promises to have one shortly. Otherwise, it will be necessary to replace the non-compliant package with a compliant one. In either case, testing the new package is essential.
Software written especially for the office may pose particular problems. Is the person or company that wrote the program still around? If so, it may be possible for them to make the necessary changes rather simply. (If it was an outside contractor rather than a staff person, contact them promptly before they’re committed to too many other projects to get the correction done in time.) If the original programmer is not available, the next question is whether the source code is available. If it is, it may be possible to find a programmer adept in the language in which the program is written. If these solutions fail, as they well may, it may be necessary to replace the offending programs. In any case the cost of remediation must be taken into account in your planning for the next couple of years. Be sure to allow for the testing of the rewritten or replaced programs.
If your office accepts credit cards, have you checked that your credit card terminals can handle cards expiring in 2000? So far, enough terminals could not that the credit card associations asked issuers for most of 1997 not to issue cards with 00 expiration dates. While sufficient terminals are now compliant that they’ve lifted the restrictions, it’s no consolation if yours is not compliant.
Of course your concern goes beyond your own computer to the external systems that affect you. What suppliers do you depend on? Do you have health systems with which you are contracted that would have a substantial effect on you if they go out of business or even if their accounting system malfunctions and they don’t pay you for a while. What about the financial institutions you deal with? Are they year 2000 compliant?
Make written inquiry to each firm that is significant to you, asking for a written response. Ask, “Are all of your computer systems able to accurately process date data (including, but not limited to, calculating, comparing, and sequencing) from, into and between the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, including leap year calculations? If not, what steps are you taking so that you can assure me that they will be able to by 1999?” Don’t settle for vague statements. If necessary, contact the firm’s information system officers and learn the specific steps being taken.
Similar inquiries to your local utilities would be prudent. Also, see if your property insurance company or agency is prepared to issue policies expiring past 2000. It would be a good public service to check on where your local government units are in dealing with the problem too.
Another element to factor into your planning is the overall economic effect of the year 2000 problem. If any significant portion of firms and institutions fail to have their systems ready for the year 2000, the adverse effect on the economy could be severe. This, in turn, would affect your practice even if all of your systems and connections work in the year 2000. You need contingency planningthinking ahead and planning what to do, for example, if we have a recession because of the year 2000 problem.
Don’t let the year 2000 computer problems catch you unaware. It isn’t safe to assume your practice won’t be affected. You need to begin immediately to determine what the effects will be and what you need to do to avoid an adverse impact on your practice. Then you must take the necessary actions to ensure that your office will be one of the ones that make it through the year 2000.
A SIX STEP TEST FOR Y2K COMPLIANCE
- Back up your hard drive first to be safe.
- Go to the DOS prompt and type “date”.
- At new date enter 12-31-99.
- Then type “time” and at new time enter 11:59pm.
- Wait a little over a minute and type “date” again. It should tell you the date is Saturday 1-1-2000.
- Now restart your computer and check the date again.
Does it still say 2000?