The Y2 K Issue, For Better Or For Worse

Much is being said about the cost of the Y2K problem, estimated at $1 trillion ("Y2K is worse than anyone thought," News: Analysis & Commentary, Dec. 14). It would be interesting to compare this figure with other technology-induced costs we live with every day: loss of work hours driving to work and/or in traffic jams; medical costs caused by pollution, use of pesticides; the recent "natural disasters" that appear to have been caused by man's activities. I wouldn't be surprised if these costs were bigger than the Y2K cost. Also, the Y2K problem is a one-time problem; the other ones are permanent or recurring.

Jacques Jangoux

Belem, Brazil

When the author estimates the price tag for upgrading the nation's computer systems to deal with this issue, the assumption is that this expenditure will be a drain on the economy, with no payout. In fact, rather than patching their existing antiquated systems, many companies are belatedly replacing them with entirely new systems that not only solve the Y2K problem but have powerful new cost-reducing features. There will be a significant return on this investment that could go a long way toward offsetting the capital outlay and may leave the economy better off in the long run.

An analogous situation existed in Germany and Japan after World War II. Factories ruined by bombardment had to be rebuilt from scratch, with newer equipment replacing antiquated and inefficient earlier investments that prior management had been reluctant to scrap. This contributed to the "economic miracle" in both countries.

Charles J. Bodenstab

Friday Harbor, Wash.

Your articles on the Year 2000 computer bug show that doom and gloomsters are moving into high gear. We've heard from this crowd before--just weeks ago we were told that the stock market crash was only days away amid the collapse of the global economy. But careful analysis can only lead one to be unequivocally jubilant: Y2K's net economic consequences will be decidedly beneficial, not detrimental.

First, most organizations will be ready for Y2K. For the relatively few organizations that are not properly preparing, the Millennium Bug will lead to their disappearance through failure or mergers. Such an "economic cleansing" is what is needed to spur innovation and weed out inefficient operations. Second, the Millennium Bug is forcing organizations to become more creative in managing information technology. This is leading to unexpected benefits--for example, better information-security and cost-management systems.

Third, the Millennium Bug is helping bring about closer economic ties among world economies. Evidence of how the Y2K issue is fostering international harmony can be seen in a recent U.N. resolution that deals with issues of cooperation in solving the Millennium Bug. Although the costs of preparing for Y2K are significant, and some glitches are likely to occur, we predict that by the spring of 2000, the massive benefits of Y2K will become apparent to investors, corporate leaders, consumers, and politicians.

Lawrence A. Gordon

Martin P. Loeb

College Park, Md.

The Y2K problem is worse than you have reported. Many people are switching to year 2000-compliant software but are not converting old data. This is likely to lead to problems beyond 2000. As part of a Y2K check, if software is being changed, and data are not converted, it is necessary to make sure that the old data will be accessible after Dec. 31, 1999.

Some of the problems that may be encountered: The media on which the data are stored cannot be read by new year 2000-compliant software; the computer and/or operating system can no longer run the "old" software needed to access the data; the software package works but treats dates as being in the current century (so a report intended to look at data from 1/1/1998 through 12/31/1998 finds no records, as the dates are treated as 1/1/2998 through 12/31/2998).

We discovered this "beyond Y2K" problem in the course of launching a service to provide access to old financial data. We consulted with many financial operations and asked 10 large companies that had replaced their software whether they had dealt with the above. The universal reaction was unprintable!

Jon Casher

Chairman, RECAP Inc.

Oak Ridge, N.J.

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