GW on pace to fix ‘Y2K bug’ before 2000

GW has progressed significantly toward alleviating computer problems that could occur on Jan. 1, 2000, GW Year 2000 Project Manager Dan Drageset said at a Faculty Senate meeting Friday. But GW will need to replace its system soon after the turn of the millennium.

The “millennium bug” or “Y2K problem” has generated a flurry of concern around the globe as technology experts predict some date-based computer programs will crash when confronted with the digits “00.”

“The Y2K problem is really a three-level problem,” said Stuart Umpleby, a professor in the School of Business and Pubic Management.

Umpleby was part of a panel of experts assembled at a GW symposium Friday to gauge the threat of the Y2K “bug” on computers and everyday life.

Umpleby said the first layer of problems concerns information technology, including hardware, software and computer mainframes.

The second set of problems lies in the computer chips used in the manufacturing of traffic lights, air systems and meters.

Third level problems include social, economic, political and psychological implications.

All three levels may have implications for GW, Umpleby said.

For example, “many foreign banks are not working to fix the problem,” he said. “If foreign students who borrow from these banks cannot pay their tuition, then it will lead to a loss of revenue for the University.”

To alleviate these problems, the office of the vice president and treasurer established the Y2K Project office in 1997. The office oversees progress and facilitation of solutions to the Y2K problem, and negotiates outside contracts to supplement the University’s efforts, Drageset said.

“When (information about Y2K) first started we thought it was about old technology,” Drageset said. “Now we know that anything older than a couple of years has a potential problem, including elevators and air systems.”

Drageset said GW has never updated its decade-old computer system.

The University has signed an outside contract to update the financial system, but the new system will not be in place before January 2000 because of time constraints, Drageset said.

“This is a job that is too big for a central organization to do alone,” Drageset said about the project office. “Each section (of the University) has to solve problems by itself.”

Drageset said the most serious problems could lead to medical problems caused by technological failures at GW Hospital, material and financial loss and loss of irreplaceable data.

The project office has a team of 40 to 50 people running checks on GW systems. It has made progress in identifying problems with medical equipment, installing a new mainframe and issuing departmental surveys that will be used to process feedback and devise a departmental plan, Drageset said.

“One year ago, it was thought that 15 to 50 percent of U.S. companies would not be compliant by January 2000,” Umpleby said. “Since there are not as many companies as expected dealing with the problem, that number will be closer to 50 percent.”

Drageset said he thinks it is unlikely that GW will have serious problems resulting from the Y2K bug. He said the time line for GW to complete the project is “sufficient but tight.”

For fiscal year 1998-’99, the project office is operating on a budget of about $5.8 million, said Eve Dubrow, senior adviser for operations in the project office.

To address Y2K issues, Umpleby and other professors say they advocate beginning the spring 2000 semester in February instead of January to allow for a smoother transition.

“That would allow us to find out what the situation is,” he said. “It’s a question of uncertainty for the University and whether it will be able to function.”

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