You may have noticed that we’re approaching an important anniversary in IT. Ten years have passed since the calendar flipped over to Jan. 1, 2000, and as the champagne corks popped across the globe, we held our breath and waited to see how effective all those Y2K compliance projects had been.
Few events have tested the relationship between IT and business quite like the Millennium Bug. For several years during the late ’90s, strategic development in many IT departments was frozen while application code was scoured for offending two-digit year codes and other potential technical time bombs. There was plenty of scope for things to go wrong as we reached the end of the ’90s—from age-based calculations to projections into the future and leap-year date handling.
Of course, few organizations experienced much impact to their service continuity, and the hard work and commitment expended during the months and years leading up to that celebrated New Year’s Day were replaced by a mixture of intense relief and rigorous debate about whether the whole thing had been over-hyped.
We did learn some important lessons during that period. One was that old COBOL programmers never die; they just retire and wait to be called back into service when the world needs them. Another lesson was that the mainframe really was the least of our problems. Y2K fears started in the MVS world, of course, with all the custom application code written in the ’60s that was expected to be redundant way before the millennium. But once the problem had been identified, we knew where to find the offending date instances and how to test the corrected programs—even if it was a monumental task in some organizations. Maybe this was the single greatest example of mainframe manageability in action. What we didn’t know with any degree of confidence, on the other hand, was how other systems, such as PCs and distributed servers or embedded control systems in nuclear power stations, would behave!
Y2K provided an excellent opportunity for organizations to come to grips with their software inventory, polish their asset management and risk management processes, and complete a business-critical project within very firm deadlines. Some companies took full advantage of this chance to understand and organize their corporate software environment and continued to invest in change and configuration management going forward. Others took a snapshot of their enterprise-wide applications as the new millennium arrived, but lacked the business buy-in and technical resources to maintain this valuable information. For all, though, Y2K was a key event in the development of IT and one that reinforced the need for IT and business to work together.