Searching for tools to save time in Year 2000 solutions
- By John Moore
- Aug 18, 1996
With the race to beat the Year 2000 clock on in earnest federal agencies are turning to software tools to help them save time and renovate systems before the inevitable deadline.Tools available today automate a number of steps in a Year 2000 project. The aides can help organizations inventory their programs identify date-related code repair faulty code and test software to check for Year 2000-related breakdowns.
IDC Government estimates that tools can help most organizations reduce labor requirements by 25 to 30 percent. Although Year 2000 experts caution that actual savings will depend upon the quality and documentation of the code the time-fighting potential of tools is hard to ignore. Fixing the Year 2000 problem without tools "would be like building a house without a hammer " said George Haynes research director at IDC Government Falls Church Va.
"We are running up against a time line that has a definitive end " added Mike Schall director of business development at CTA Inc. a Rockville Md. integrator that has helped convert code at agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs. "You need tools to make that schedule."
Still industry executives are quick to point out that today's tools are no silver bullet for fixing the Year 2000 problem. Robert Martin manager of software assessments at Mitre Corp.'s Software Engineering Center advises organizations "not to get too enamored with just Year 2000 tools when they go to look at this problem." Martin and other experts agreed that tools should be used within the scope of a broader conversion plan that incorporates project management and configuration management.
"This is a tremendously complex management problem " said Harry Quast executive vice president of business development at CACI Inc. an Arlington Va. integrator that has developed a Year 2000 methodology. "The tools are useful but it's the management that you are after."
Indeed customers are recognizing that tools are not the solution themselves but "become more like an assistant " said Ted Swoyer director of marketing at Peritus Software Services Inc. a Billerica Mass. company that has developed Year 2000 tools. "They are beginning to understand that there is an enormous amount of work they have to do themselves."
Federal customers interested in buying Year 2000 tools are faced with an astonishing array of choices. The number of tools has exploded in recent months. A catalog on the World Wide Web page maintained by Mitre the Defense Information Systems Agency and the Air Force's Electronic Systems Center lists about 160 vendors offering conversion tools or services. "The question is not whether you're going to use tools it's what tools do you want " Haynes said.
Agencies will encounter some familiar faces in their tool quests. Computer Associates International Inc. and IBM Corp. for example both have used their heritage in systems management to create Year 2000 wares. And traditional computer-aided software engineering firms such as Bachman Information Systems Inc. and Sterling Software Inc. also have developed products to support the Year 2000 fix.
In addition a host of lesser-known firms many of which had been focusing exclusively on the commercial sector are selling Year 2000 products. Several of these companies have forged alliances with federal vendors to gain visibility in an unfamiliar market. Computer Horizons Corp. Mountain Lakes N.J. for example is marketing its Year 2000 code conversion product in conjunction with Software AG Federal Systems Inc. Similarly Peritus has licensed its technology to Computer Sciences Corp. and IBM's Integrated Systems Solutions Corp. subsidiary. Tool maker Viasoft Inc. has alliances with federal market firms such as CTA and CACI. And Quintic Systems Inc. Des Plaines Ill. markets its tools through FDC Technologies Inc. a Bethesda Md. integrator.
The specific tools vendors are offering cover a range of Year 2000 niches but generally fall into three categories: tools that scan software and identify date-related code tools that fix occurrences of the date problem and tools that test software by simulating the effects of the date change. The date-finding tools sometimes called impact-analysis or assessment tools essentially analyze an organization's portfolio of programs searching for date-related items. These tools provide reports of programs containing date-related fields and will flag the individual lines of code affected. CA-Impact/2000 part of CA's Discovery 2000 Year 2000 toolkit and Bachman's Cayenne 2000 fall into the impact-analysis category.
Marc Sokol vice president of advanced technology at CA said no tool can automate the Year 2000 fix "100 percent " but he added that tools such as those offered by CA can make the process more efficient.Code-fixing tools automate the process of correcting code converting data and redeploying the renovated code. And testing products include tools that run clock simulations to catch date-related errors configuration management tools and tools that help conduct unit and program testing.
While numerous impact-analysis and code-fixing tools exist testing tools are not as well represented industry executives noted. Yet the testing phase is expected to take up at least 40 percent of a Year 2000 conversion project. The Year 2000 calls for testing that is more stringent than what is typical for many organizations but few vendors have pushed the envelope noted Hoyt Warren developer of CACI's Year 2000 methodology Restore 2000. Traditional tools focus on unit and program testing but the Year 2000 issue calls for integration testing as well - that is testing of compliance among programs that interact with each other both within organizations and among them.
"From the standpoint of going beyond traditional testing...we've found little [product activity] " Warren said.
But companies such as Isogon Corp. New York and Mainware Inc. Maple Plain Minn. have developed clock-simulation products. And some observers said they believe more tools will emerge as more companies complete the code-fixing stage of their projects and need to do testing.
Some companies are offering integrated Year 2000 toolkits that incorporate functions such as impact analysis code renovation and testing. According to industry analysts those companies include ADPAC Corp. Computer Horizons Prince Software Inc. and Viasoft Inc. CA covers most areas except automated code fixing which the company provides through business partners.
Although tools can be great time savers analysts and vendors themselves point out that the best of tools have their limitations.
"I haven't seen a tool that anyone would say is 100 percent foolproof " IDC Government's Haynes said.Accuracy is one issue. As for impact-analysis tools the concern is whether they will miss date-related fields or misidentify fields as date-related when they actually are not. "There is still an open question on what percentage of the actual problem they locate " said Tom Backman director of the Software Engineering Center at Mitre. The problem is compounded by products that find and then automatically fix code problems a situation Backman said was cause for some nervousness.
CTA and other tool users however indicate that they have been satisfied with the accuracy of tools to date. Still there is no substitute for manual double-checking and testing executives said. "You just don't go in and fix " CTA's Schall said. "We go back in and look manually for additional occurrences [of date-related problems]."
Language support is the second limitation. Most tools are wrapped around Cobol and IBM mainframe environments analysts said. "The tool market is focused naturally on IBM/Cobol " said Dick Kearney partner in charge of KPMG Peat Marwick's global Year 2000 practice. Cobol represents the bulk of code to be converted and hence the tool vendors' emphasis.
Haynes said tools are lacking in areas such as Ada a gap of considerable importance in the federal market. McCabe Associates is among the few to support Ada he noted.
The alternatives for customers whose languages are not supported are to work with vendors to modify their tools or to pursue language-independent tools. Edge Information Group Des Plaines Ill. for example markets a product that examines object code identifying MVS load modules that invoke system date routines.
Federal users are faced with a complex buying decision given the number of Year 2000 tools and their variations.
One approach is to purchase a comprehensive toolkit rather than individual tools. This has the advantage of one-stop shopping and vendor-supplied integration analysts said. But Haynes suggested that most organizations will end up buying more than one tool.
"I don't think that most large shops will be able to get away with a single-vendor tool set " Haynes said. He noted that issues specific to a given organization - such as language support - make it likely that more than one vendor will be called upon. In addition agencies taking a best-of-breed tool selection approach are unlikely to find that the integrated tool sets have the best solution for every aspect of the Year 2000 fix Haynes said.
The piecemeal purchasing approach however makes tool integration the responsibility of the buyer. For this reason Haynes recommends that agencies hire a prime contractor to evaluate and integrate the tools for the job. This option has the added advantage Haynes said of having the prime hold the software licensing agreements with tool vendors agencies thus can avoid getting stuck with unwanted software after the conversion has been completed.
Analysts and consultants also recommend that customers pilot tools before making a full commitment. "Most tool vendors offer a pilot test program " Haynes said. "There is an opportunity to try before you buy."