Mainframe readiness falls behind schedule

The majority of federal mainframe sites will be affected by the Year 2000 date problem and many of these sites have left little time to correct and test their systems according to a study released this month by International Data Corp.

IDC reported that 83 percent of mainframe sites it surveyed cited moderate or high degrees of date sensitivity for mainframe-based applications. Only 3 percent reported no date sensitivity.

The IDC study which did not identify the sites was based on interviews with 36 federal employees at IBM Corp.-compatible mainframe sites. The Year 2000 problem stems from the common use of two-digit year indicators in many software hardware and firmware installations which will cause systems to recognize the "00" in 2000 as 1900 and cause calculation errors or computer shutdowns.

The bulk of the work to fix the problem is at least six months out including planning purchasing products fixing and testing systems IDC reported.

Agencies Set Sights on 1998

But a sizable fraction of agencies will not finish that work until late 1998. About a quarter of federal respondents said the completion of fixing code is more than two years away and a third of the respondents said the completion of code testing also is more than two years away.

By pushing deadlines into late 1998 however agencies are leaving little time to make adjustments for work slippage or to conduct further corrections if testing reveals problems said Steve LeCompte vice president of IDC Government Market Services.

Agencies "will be pushing the deadline by going out that far " LeCompte said. "They will put themselves under a lot of pressure."

"I still see a lot of denial and procrastination " said Nancy Peters director of business development at Software AG Federal Systems Inc. Reston Va. "It can take longer to fix things than they think."

Peters said some agencies are estimating how long it will take to fix the problem "without full knowledge of what they have to deal with. They haven't done a thorough impact assessment of how much more needs to be done." Software AG along with partner Computer Horizons Corp. is marketing Year 2000 tools and services to agencies.

Tom O'Hare president of the Government Information Technology Executive Council and associate commissioner for systems operations at the Social Security Administration said levels of preparedness vary from agency to agency. He said the problem is twofold: evaluating agency applications and ensuring that hardware and software products are Year 2000-compliant.

To help agencies the council formerly the Council of Federal Data Center Directors is developing a database of Year 2000-compliant products. The database will list products that are currently compliant and provide information on when other products will become Year 2000-compliant. The database will track PC-related products as well as data center products. It is expected to be accessible via the Internet in about a month.

Testing Challenge

The testing phase which is the last step in the Year 2000 fix "is probably the most arduous part of the process " LeCompte said.

Year 2000 testing requires agencies not only to verify that their own code works but also to evaluate the interfaces between systems that exchange information - a potential problem for mainframe sites.

According to the IDC report 69 percent of the respondents said their agencies exchange date-sensitive mainframe data with other agencies and 31 percent said they exchange date-sensitive data with state and local governments. "That's a whole other level of testing " LeCompte said.

Some agencies already are moving to check applications that interface with other systems.For example the Environmental Protection Agency's Research Triangle Park data center has included electronic data interchange applications in its Year 2000 plan said Walter Shackelford chief of the scientific computing branch at the EPA's Research Triangle Park facility. He said the data center has embarked on a three-year plan to address the Year 2000 issue and is looking for software tools to test applications.


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