Warfare center views Y2K fix as chance to upgrade system

Faced with fixing the Year 2000 software glitch in its financial management and related administrative programs, one Navy organization is turning what many agencies see as an onerous task into an opportunity to upgrade and modernize its computer systems.

The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (Spawar), which builds and tests intelligence and surveillance computer systems, this month will begin combing through 850,000 lines of financial systems code with a Year 2000 conversion tool that expands two-digit date fields to four-digit date fields. Without such a conversion, the application could not distinguish between dates in the 20th and 21st centuries, which could corrupt data or crash the system.

While finding lines of code embedded with dates, Spawar plans to use another software tool to translate the code into a new programming language and to move from the old proprietary systems onto more modern platforms. As a result, not only will Spawar's applications continue to operate into the next century, but the systems will be more flexible, the Navy said.

Spawar's current financial applications, which feed data to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), were written in the Cobol programming language to run on VS computer systems, a proprietary platform developed by Wang Laboratories Inc. The Navy office has tapped systems integrator Product Data Integration Technology Inc., Charleston, S.C., to translate the Cobol code to run in the more widely used Unix environment.

"You've got to recognize that the applications that were developed on the Wang still have value," said Nelson Ard, deputy at the Corporate Information Management Systems Division. "The applications and data define a business process for this command, and we still require the functionality. However, it's more economical to preserve the applications on and the data through to the year 2000 and beyond."

According to Don Bell, East Coast operations manager for PDIT, the Cobol conversion will make it easier to exchange data between Spawar's financial applications and the central financial systems at the Defense megacenter in San Diego.

"The thrust of the transition is to convert Wang procedural language and its utilities...to a more open Cobol environment," Bell said. Once complete, Spawar's databases will be accessible using the industry standard Structured Query Language, opening up the data to other users working with widely used database tools.

The refurbished code, no longer limited by the Wang VS environment, also will improve operations by enabling more people to log onto Spawar's financial systems. Additionally, in the future, the modernized code will be easier to modify as changes to the applications are needed, Bell said.

During the next several months, PDIT will carry out its task using three tools developed by NeoMedia Technologies. ADAPT 2000 is a Year 2000 conversion tool that will take code and data in the VS-based Cobol language and make it Year 2000-compliant by expanding the two-digit date field to a four-digit field. WISP, a translation tool, takes that same code and converts it to run on a Unix platform. PACEPort, in a similar fashion, translates database information to run on Unix.

A Definite Deadline

The other part of the project is Year 2000-compliance, which Ard said is critical. "The year 2000 is a very hard and very real deadline, and we must be ready," Ard said. The project calls for the conversion to be complete in June, but DFAS "has not set a date to run end-to-end testing of its systems," Bell said.

According to Cameron Jenkins, director of marketing for NeoMedia Technologies, agencies can look at their systems and make decisions while also solving their Year 2000 problems.

"The Year 2000 problems and issues are affording the information systems departments within government to start migration projects that they have planned and may have had on hold for years," Jenkins said. "We're watching this unfold right before our very eyes."

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