University systems should beat the bug

Like all big organizations using computer technology to get their business done, the University has been preparing for the Y2K issues that could bug its systems.

As part of Penn’s Year 2000 Readiness Disclosure effort, the man in charge of Y2K preparedness, Michael Kearney, has agreed to write a series of articles to answer any Y2K worries you may have. Here’s the first one.

  • Is all we hear about Y2K really true? Isn’t it all just hype?
Neither. There are broad differences of opinion on what the fallout will be from theYear 2000 problem, varying from nothing happening on the one hand to the end of modern civilization on the other. We think the real situation lies somewhere in between, with problems most likely being localized and limited in scope.

  • Will the University be affected?

We hope not. Over the last several years, we have been assessing, fixing and testing the University’s mission-critical systems and infrastructure — most of which is now complete. For example, back in 1995, we modified our student information systems to handle four-digit dates before the class of 2000 arrived.

However, in a situation this complex, we cannot predict the outcomes precisely, especially since the University depends on suppliers and services that are outside its immediate control.

Consequently, we are also preparing contingency plans to allow us to respond in the event of Year 2000 difficulties.

  • How will we know if a computer problem is caused by Y2K or by some other change that was made about the same time?

A common approach being used is to “freeze” system changes for several weeks or months before and after January 1, 2000, reducing modifications to an absolute minimum.

This will make it easier for systems support staff to isolate and resolve date-related problems if and when they occur. Details on system freezes will vary from one organization to the next. Contact your Year 2000 Coordinator to find out the specifics for yours.

  • Why would my organization freeze their systems before January 1, 2000? Aren’t all Year 2000 problems expected to happen afterwards?

No. Many Penn systems use information that “looks ahead” into the future. For example, Penn’s financial systems have already begun processing information for fiscal year 2000. Because Penn’s systems look ahead in time, computer users should be alert for and report problems even if they observe them before January 1, 2000.

Do you have a Year 2000 question of your own? You can find additional information at the University’s Year 2000 Web Site.

Faculty and staff should contact their Year 2000 coordinator (see

Students should contact their designated computing support provider (see

E-mail other questions to

For an essay on Y2K, see “For What It’s Worth.”

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Originally published on September 16, 1999