Some four years before headlines and anchormen begin warning of "millennium meltdowns" and "the Y2K bug" -- IBM begins to plan, staff and implement a program to help its customers prepare for the Year 2000 challenge. IBM recognizes very early that the coming transition from 1999 to 2000 can affect computer systems and applications using two digits to represent the year. (When year 1999 rolls over to 2000, many systems that use the two-digit field will express the first day of the new year as 01/01/00, and assume that "00" means 1900 -- reading "00" as coming before "99" in numerical sequence. That simple change on the calendar could skew the accuracy of data created by computer applications from word processors to databases, and could affect calculations, comparisons and data sorting in systems ranging from the desktop to the largest server.)
In October 1995 IBM announces its intention to provide customers with products, services, tools and support to assist in making Year 2000 transitions. Also in 1995, the company makes available to everyone at no charge a comprehensive Year 2000 planning and implementation resource guide. It is updated and republished steadily throughout the remainder of the decade.
By the end of 1996, IBM establishes four Year 2000 Technical Support Centers around the world specifically dedicated to responding to inquiries and providing technical support to customers. All four TSCs are operating in early 1997.
Also in 1996, IBM declares that most current versions and releases of nearly all key system software products and approximately 1,900 application products are Year 2000 ready. It explains the Y2K status of all hardware products. It encourages customers to consult a special IBM Internet Web site to determine the Year 2000 readiness of any IBM products they currently use.
In addition, IBM offers a range of consulting and services, tools and solutions, business partner programs, and education and training to ease the transition for its customers. It communicates with customers and the public in conferences, congressional hearings, and consultant and press briefings to increase awareness of the Year 2000 challenge. It establishes a hotline and Web site to address customer and public Y2K concerns.
And in the end, how did Y2K affect IBM customers? What happened?
Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., then IBM's chairman, says in January 2000: "It's clear that the Y2K transition, both with our customers and within IBM, has gone far better than hoped or expected. . . . We can all feel very good about what's happened -- or, rather, what didn't happen. . . . The relative calm our company and our customers experienced could only have happened as the result of solid planning and hard work on the part of tens of thousands of IBM colleagues around the world."
As Gerstner summed it up: "The fact that Y2K went so smoothly for customers is great news for them -- and for us."