Meetings & Conventions: Bad Date February 1998
Do your computer systems have an appointment with fate? How
to prepare for the Year 2000...
BY SARAH J.F. BRALEYT
he champagne flows, a new millennium begins
and the world is filled with optimism. Everyone is light-hearted,
if a little hungover, at work on Monday, Jan. 3, 2000, until they
realize that all the computers seem to think it's Wednesday, Jan.
Oh, so this is the Year 2000 problem techies were talking about
Even experts who have been working to avoid this type of
scenario for years expect glitches at the turn of the millennium.
The simple reason for the meltdowns: Many older hardware and
software packages were not designed to make the switch from the
1900s to the 2000s. To make matters worse for the computer doctors
of the world, 2000 is a leap year.
It may not sound like a meeting planning problem -- but it
certainly has the potential to be one. Every event depends upon
date-related computer programs that could cause troubles on that
day. Rooms are booked through general reservation systems and
stored in the hotel's database; event schedules go through the
hotel's catering database; registrations and speaker schedules are
stored on your hard drive or networked among your colleagues. In
short, you could be ringing in the year 2000 with headaches caused
by more than just champagne.
The nightmare started out as a space- and time-saving device in
the early days of computer development. Nearly every company
creating operating systems or programs that kept track of the
current date or the date a file was created used a two-digit field
to indicate the year (i.e., 1997 was entered as 97). That was two
fewer numbers to be logged into the computer's memory and two fewer
numbers the data processor had to key in.
As people began entering dates after 2000, many programs
recognized "00" as 1900 instead of 2000, and a subtle panic spread
through the information technology industry.
Think of the hundreds of computers in an average office building
-- they may control the heating and air-conditioning system,
security system and elevators. Computers are networked within the
building and to a satellite office hundreds of miles away; they
control the phone system and store the company's Web site. Now
imagine checking every computer worldwide to see which pieces of
hardware and software will roll over to the new millennium with no
problem and which will need to be fixed or replaced.
"The way it's going now, we're going to have a very interesting
situation on Jan. 1, 2000," says Bob Cohen, vice president of the
Arlington, Va.-based Information Technology Association of America,
which has been offering education about the Year 2000 problem since
1995. "Fewer than 1 percent of companies and organizations have
completed their conversions, and there's going to be a large
percentage of software that won't convert in time."
Cohen predicts that most large companies will focus on the
computers and programs that are essential to their daily business.
"But building a fence around what's most important becomes a large
undertaking," he adds. "Chances are there will be errors and
Find out more about Year
2000 issues at these Internet sites.
The Information Technology Association of
America (www.itaa.org/year2000.htm), represents 11,000
information and technology industry members. The Web site defines
the issue and offers a newsletter, updates on congressional
hearings and more.The Year 2000 Information Center (www.year2000.com)
keeps a running count of how long we have to fix the problem. It
also offers articles, compliance information, news and
links.The U.S. government's Year 2000 Information
Directory (www.itpolicy.gsa.gov/mks/yr2000/y201toc1.htm), has
similar information.IBM has a Year 2000 guide and more at
(www.ibm.com/year2000/).Apple (macos.apple.commacos/ 2000.html) describes how the Year
2000 problem affects its computers and Macintosh software
packages.Microsoft has seemingly endless pages
devoted to the Year 2000 problem. Go to (www.microsoft.com/cio/year.asp) to start your
With less than two years to go, most businesses -- large or
small -- are feverishly trying to bring their systems into Year
The hospitality business is no exception. For Hilton Hotels
Corp., all-new equipment is the answer. "We are installing a new
system that will be implemented by the end of 1998 or beginning of
1999 that will be fully compliant for transient as well as group
and corporate reservations, including sales and catering," says Joe
Durocher, Hilton's senior vice president and chief information
officer. Other hotel companies, too, are evaluating and updating
At the airlines, where computers control reservations systems,
flight decks and communications, a whole lot of scurrying is going
on. United Airlines has a task force looking into the elements that
need upgrading -- and evaluating some 40,000 computers.
At KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, "We already are in the process of
transferring our systems and plan to have them ready in time," says
spokesperson Odette Fodor. "But we don't know how the world is
going to meet the problem. It may be beyond our control, in which
case we will not fly." In other words, if the air traffic control
system needs tinkering or the ground tracking systems aren't ready,
KLM would consider keeping planes on the ground until they're up
and running. But Fodor doesn't think such a situation would last
very long: "I think that would happen that one day only."
Hilton's Durocher also casts a wary eye on the outside world:
"We as a hotel company do not have 100 percent assurances that the
[reservations systems] will be compliant. We're trying to get
assurances from them, but sometimes they're not totally
forthright."NO WORMS AT
The Year 2000 problem has
never troubled the Apple Computer folks in Cupertino, Calif.
Russell Brady, a spokesperson for the company, says, "We always
recognized that there would be computing going on after 12/31/99,
so we created an operating system that could handle it. It was a
The only software that will give Mac users problems are
programs developed by companies who used their own custom date and
time utility packages instead of Apple's tools. Adds Brady, "If
developers have written their programs following our guidelines,
the application should be fine." * S.B.
What can you do? Take an active interest in the
computers you touch. PCs with Pentium processors should be fine,
but those with the older 386 or 486 processing chips may need
upgrading. Call the manufacturer and ask. Call the companies that
produced each piece of date-related software you use (calendars,
word processors, spreadsheets, etc.) and ask if their software is
compliant. If it isn't, ask what you have to do to bring it up to
Many meetings packages like MeetingTrak and Meeting Matrix are
fine as long as you have the latest versions, because they are
developed with Year 2000-compliant tools. Call the software
developer and ask if that's the case with the package you use.
"Assume that you might have a problem and check to see that you
don't," advises Ken Sayers, a spokesperson for IBM in Somers, N.Y.
"If your software is classified as nonready, you may need to
upgrade or convert the files, which will take some time." Start
now. *NEW YEAR'S DAY OR
Some worst-case scenarios
for 12:00:00 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2000:
The cockpit computer in an airplane
hasn't been upgraded and the flight is grounded.
Air traffic control grinds to a
halt.Traffic-light systems shut down,
resulting in accidents and gridlock.The system for the heating,
airconditioning and elevator in your
apartment building goes haywire.The security system at your office
starts scrambling data and you can't get in.Your long-distance service isn't ready;
your calls won't go through.Your ATM card doesn't
work.Your super-sophisticated, computer-operated
car won't start.Your favorite Web sites are suddenly
unavailable.You draw information from an old
database to fill in a registration form for an
upcoming meeting and mess up the entire new database.
Could they happen? Sure. Will they? Probably not. But we
won't know until Jan. 1, 2000. * S.B.
Back to Current Issue indexM&C
| Events Calendar
| Incentive News
| Meetings Market
| CVB Links
| Reader Survey
| Hot Dates
| Contact M&C