The so-called "Millennium Bug," commonly referred to as the Y2K issue, demands political activism as well as business-smart precautions by tire dealers. Misjudging this problem's threat would be akin to underestimating the Japanese threat to Hawaii in 1941. Simply put, a typical computer may become addled when its internal calendar rolls over to Jan. 1, 2000. Date-sensitive decisions may put the computer into a tailspin because it will interpret the new date—00—as being January 1900.
Will your shop's computers—including those used for engine analyzers, alignment machines, payroll and work orders—still function?
The more homework I do on the topic, the more convinced I am that proper preparations will minimize Y2K's impact on business and society as a whole. Plus, experts agree that whatever disruptions the bug does create will be spread out over months of time rather than cascading upon us immediately after the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31, 1999.
But people in the know also agree that an incredible amount of work needs to be done—and done right now. Furthermore, variables such as the Third World's unpreparedness loom on the horizon like threatening thunderclouds.
Tragically, procrastination has characterized most governments' and businesses' reaction to the potential Millennium Bug disaster. No less a businessman than computer wunderkind Bill Gates has been under fire for Microsoft's apparent indifference to the Y2K challenge. To me, this procrastination reflects the biggest problem facing this nation today: a lack of leadership.
Obviously, an antitrust suit has Mr. Gates battling for his company's future. President Clinton is distracted trying to save his political skin. But think of the impact these leaders could have if they took to the bully pulpit on behalf of resolving Y2K conflicts. Wouldn't that get more of the right people focused on checking the millions of lines of computer code that remain to be done?
No matter what source you turn to, you hear or read that most government agencies are nowhere near finishing Y2K upgrades and corrections. Reportedly, some are close to completion but none have yet demonstrated so. Claiming you're Y2K compliant and demonstrating it are two very different matters.
Even the kindest critic of the Capitol scene will emphasize that Washington is basically a one-issue town. In case you've been hermited away somewhere, the issue of the moment is President Clinton's difficulties. Certainly, he has to face the consequences of his actions. But his costly and time-consuming comeuppance will mean little to the average American months from now when Y2K-induced calamities ruin or disrupt his or her cushy lifestyle.
Remember that the risks are graver than possible food shortages at the supermarket. For example, at a time when air travel is burgeoning, the FAA has been struggling to update its computers—let alone become Y2K compliant. No one knows how those two little digits, 00, will impact oil production in Venezuela, America's largest supplier of foreign oil. Scarier still is how Y2K glitches might affect Russian missile controls or our early-warning network!
But instead of getting doomsday hysterical, I'll take prudent precautions and demand more action on the Millennium Bug. I ask you to do the same. Instead of being immobilized by fear and indecision, the very least you should do is bombard your legislators with mail and telephone calls insisting they prioritize Millennium Bug solutions.
Ask your equipment suppliers if the equipment—including software—they sold you is Y2K compliant.
Most, if not all of you, are also Microsoft customers. Please express your Y2K concerns to Mr. Gates or your favorite software and hardware maker. They just might listen, then help reduce the time required to check and correct computer code!
Finally, don't assume that everyone in government possesses a tin ear. When the constituency threatens, most legislators react.
Do you think Mr. Clinton isn't buoyed by the fact that polls show most Americans don't want him removed from office? Maybe turning the heat up on the issue will cue the president and the Y2K czar to demand more results from the computer fixers. Stranger things have happened in politics!