The following is the text of an IBM press fact sheet published on December 16, 1996.
The "eve" of the new millennium - - when 1999 becomes the year 2000 - - presents a significant challenge to users of computer systems and applications using two digits to represent the year.
That simple change on the calendar may 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. Although the price tag for making systems Year 2000 ready ¹ could be high, failure to act will adversely affect a broad array of commercial, industrial, educational and government operations.
This situation - - which can exist in any level of hardware or software, in microcode, in new and old applications, in files and databases, and on any computing platform - - must be addressed by all those who use and depend on information technology (IT).
Many computer operating systems and applications use a standard two-digit year field - - MM/DD/YY - - where YY represents the year. For example, a computer would write January 1, 1999, as 01/01/99 (in binary 0's and l's, of course). When the year 1999 rolls over to 2000, many systems that use the two-digit year field will express the first day of the new year as 01/01/00, and assume the "00" means 1900 -- reading "'00" as coming before "99" in numerical sequence.
Many existing programs calculate the length of time between dates by subtracting two-digit year fields from each other. In 1999, for example, an application computing the age of someone born in 1953 would provide an answer of 46 years (99-53 = 46). But a year later, when 1999 becomes 2000, if the two-digit year field is not addressed, the age of that person could be computed as -53 years (00-53 = -53).
Similar problems may occur with invoices, payrolls, credit card transactions, bill payments, inventory systems, auto loans, auto license renewals and automated elevator operations.
That reality prompts some questions.
First, why didn't programmers foresee from the beginning that two-digit year date fields would be a problem and use four digits to represent the year?
Until recently, computer memory and storage were costly and in short supply, and performance could be adversely affected by the manipulation of "unnecessary" data. It made sense to save several characters in every date entry in a database, especially those containing millions of records. And even programmers who considered the issue may reasonably have assumed that the applications they were writing would be replaced long before this calendar change could cause problems. Remarkably, many of those old programs are still in use, often as an important part of company information systems, and the data and processing are still in the same two-digit format.
Second, why wasn't this situation remedied before now?
In many cases, date fields cannot easily be expanded to include more than two numbers. Computers cannot be instructed to globally insert the digits "19" before the two-digit year field, because some dates may refer to a different century. The solution is to update or replace old programs and databases or painstakingly find every place in a system that uses the date to trigger a calculation or a routine and rewrite the code. All applications must be changed in a coordinated fashion and tested to ensure they can properly handle dates within and between the 20th and 21st centuries.
And third, why have companies waited until now to grapple with the date problem?
Not all companies have waited. A few industries started using four-digit year date fields when bank application and insurance programs first began to deal with amortization and interest table calculations into the year 2000 and beyond. Some computer users may have waited, though, because the task of fixing the problem is daunting. Some organizations may need to analyze, change and test millions of lines of code, many hundreds of applications and many thousands of routines and sub-routines, all on a coordinated basis. The task could be very difficult and expensive.
There are some general misunderstandings and myths regarding the Year 2000 challenge. For example:
This is a problem that occurs only after December 31, 1999.
In fact, difficulties caused by the year 2000 challenge are already occurring. For example, some applications that deal with future dates, in such areas as mortgages, insurance policies and driver's license renewals have already encountered problems.
This is just a hardware clock problem.
In fact, both hardware and software are affected. The internal timers in hardware may need to be tested for Year 2000 readiness and reset. In software, application programs and operating systems using two digits for year representation could experience difficulties even if the hardware they are running on has clock and/or system timer services that provide a four-digit format. And it is a problem that will appear in a variety of programs, including those purchased from solution developers, written in-house by a customer's own system and application programmers, licensed from various software vendors, or shared among the I/S community.
This is a problem that occurs only in mainframe systems and/or legacy applications.
In fact, any system or program (large or small) can be affected if it uses only two digits for year representation.
IBM recognizes that the Year 2000 challenge is not limited to a given class of customers, vendors, industries or nations. It affects virtually everyone.
The transition is -- or should be -- a key concern for all of our customers, and is, therefore, of great importance to us.
IBM wants to ensure that our customers are aware of the challenge facing them. We are actively using various methods to raise awareness and inform our customers of technology, support and services available to help them in making a Year 2000 transition. For some time, we have been encouraging our customers to take actions necessary to assess and meet this challenge. Any delays in getting started on this effort are likely to compound the difficulty of the task and increase the expense.
The following pages will briefly describe some of the ways IBM is implementing a five-point strategy -- awareness, planning and support, Year 2000 ready products, services and tools - - to assist customers and work with others in the industry in addressing the Year 2000 challenge on a global, cross-platform basis.
In October 1995, IBM announced its intention to provide customers with products, services, tools and support to assist in making Year 2000 transitions. With that announcement, IBM said it was "sharing what we have learned about the Year 2000 with our customers, and all computer users, to help them make date transitions as smooth as possible." Among the steps IBM has taken to inform and support our customers and others are:
IBM has participated in various public conferences, congressional hearings and consultant and press briefings to increase awareness regarding the Year 2000 challenge. Through such forums and groups as the AS/400 Influencers, AIX home page, IBM CIO conferences, Success '96, VISTA, COMMON, GUIDE and SHARE, IBM has urged customers and users to take action to meet the challenge. In addition, IBM has formed vendor and customer councils to facilitate the exchange of information and views on the Year 2000 challenge. IBM is making information regarding Year 2000 available through l-800-IBM-4YOU and via the Internet. IBM plans to continue these communications initiatives on a worldwide basis in 1997.
Year 2000 Planning and Implementation Guide
IBM has made available to everyone at no charge via the Internet a comprehensive Year 2000 resource guide. The 200-page document -- entitled "The Year 2000 And 2-Digit Dates: A Guide For Planning And Implementation" -- is available on the World Wide Web through the IBM Software Home Page.
This document includes a compilation of IBM's Year 2000 findings, recommended approaches and product listings. Also included in the guide is a bibliography of other Year 2000 publications available throughout the industry.
Following publication of the guide's first edition in 1995, IBM has updated the document five times, most recently in December 1996. There have been several thousand downloads of the guide since its initial offering. Hard copies are available for a nominal fee. As IBM gathers information about new and emerging Year 2000 products and services, and as the Year 2000 readiness status of IBM's products is updated, IBM will incorporate that information in future editions of the Planning and Implementation Guide.
Technical Support Centers
IBM is establishing four Year 2000 Technical Support Centers (TSCs) around the world specifically dedicated to responding to inquiries and providing technical support to customers and IBM employees. Customers will be able to call in their questions toll-free and receive electronic support via the Internet. The first TSC has already opened in the United States, and IBM plans to have all four of the TSCs operating in early 1997.
Year 2000-Ready Software
The most current versions and releases of nearly all key IBM system software products and approximately 1,900 IBM application products are Year 2000 ready today.
IBM provides a table in the Planning and Implementation Guide which lists IBM products and spells out the versions or releases that are Year 2000-ready to assist customers in planning their own analyses, updating and testing of user and vendor applications and data. IBM continues to assess its other products to determine whether they can be added to the list. The Guide and product list will be periodically updated.
Year 2000 Hardware Support
The hardware timers on IBM System/390*, AS/400* and RS/6000* servers and Personal Systems* computers using PowerPC* technology (specifically listed in the Planning and Implementation Guide) are not affected by the Year 2000 date change.
IBM Personal Systems computers and IBM PC Servers introduced in 1996 (specifically listed in the Planning and Implementation Guide) will handle the century rollover automatically. Some current and earlier PCs will automatically update the century; others may need to receive a simple command or use a special utility. These systems need to be tested because there are different basic input/output systems (BIOS) handling the timing routine.
Customers are encouraged to consult the IBM Internet Web site for current information on the Year 2000 readiness of IBM hardware products. IBM recommends that users contact other manufacturers and vendors for information regarding Year 2000 readiness of non-IBM products.
Consulting & Services
In addition to the Implementation and Planning Guide, IBM is making available to customers a set of fee-based services from its Global Services team to help companies develop Year 2000-ready solutions for their own applications, system software and hardware.
IBM is engaged worldwide to deliver consulting and services to clients operating in both centralized and distributed computing environments. These new services use a comprehensive methodology based on years of experience in legacy transformation consulting. They seek to optimize a customer's Year 2000 investment activities with their current and planned strategic business initiatives.
Consulting and services solutions make date-field transitions easier by bringing together proven techniques and state-of-the-art technologies to help reduce cost, redundancy and complexity for the customer.
IBM is aware that some customers may prefer to handle their own transitions. To help those customers, IBM is drawing on its Year 2000 experience to develop packaged offerings consisting of tools and know-how.
Tools & Solutions
IBM offers a set of software tools to assist customers with their Year 2000 transitions. These tools and compilers are platform-specific and target the host application development environment. They support MVS*, OS/390*, OS/400*, AIX*, OS/2*, VSE* and VM* customers.
Today IBM has capabilities available for the MVS COBOL environment delivered by the IBM VisualAge for COBOL, Professional* product. IBM intends to provide similar Year 2000 support for PL/I applications running on MVS, as well as applications running in the VSE environment.
A list of these tools, compilers and products - - from IBM as well as other vendors -- is included in the Planning and Implementation Guide.
In IBM's view, effectiveness in meeting the Year 2000 challenge depends on cooperation across the IT industry. IBM is actively working with its Business Partners to encourage them to make their products Year 2000 ready, to train their employees and to offer Year 2000 services and tools, as soon as possible. IBM will continue to provide information about the availability of Business Partners' Year 2000 products and services in the latest version of the Planning and Implementation Guide, and it will be working with its Partners In Development organizations by helping them communicate information about their Year 2000 ready applications through such forums as the Internet, business shows and conferences.
The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) introduced on October 1, 1996, the ITAA*2000 certification program designed to evaluate the processes and methods that companies use to develop specific Year 2000 solutions. The program will help provide greater assurance that commercial products and services will support the transition to the next millennium. IBM participated in the pilot program to help establish ITAA's Year 2000 certification process and will continue working on other ongoing projects.
Education & Training
IBM is educating its customers, Business Partners and employees to prepare for the Year 2000. For example, more than 1,200 IBM employees received specific technical training in Year 2000 methodology and tools in 1996 and many more will follow during 1997. In addition, IBM will deliver a series of customer seminars in major cities in the United States and around the world in early 1997.
Consulting and services training will also be offered to customers and Business Partners as part of an integrated IBM services offering beginning in January 1997. With such education, IBM will help customers and independent services providers acquire the skills to implement the methodology and use the tools.
IBM recognizes the Year 2000 transition as a serious business issue affecting most users of computer systems and the information technology industry at large. For that reason, the company does not minimize the task facing those users and is committed to assisting our customers in dealing with the challenge.
IBM's goal is to ease the transition for its customers through effective communication; a range of offerings, tools and support; and working with others to expand the capabilities and resources available to meet the challenge.
IBM's customers and others should understand that information regarding the Year 2000 challenge is changing rapidly. We are all learning and at the same time searching for the most efficient ways to address this challenge. Today's answers may be found deficient tomorrow. For that reason, IBM encourages its customers to continually assess the latest information, products and technology available to assist in the Year 2000 transition. While IBM will continue to broaden its own efforts, IBM emphasizes to its customers that they should act today to address the Year 2000 challenge.
Customers and Computer Users
Dial 1-800-IBM-4YOU and say that you have a "call-own keyword of Y2K."
¹ A product is year 2000 ready if the product, when used in accordance with its associated documentation, is capable of correctly processing, providing and/or receiving date data within and between the 20th and 21st centuries, provided all other products (for example, software, hardware and firmware) used with the product properly exchange date data with it.
* Indicates trademark or registered trademark of International Business Machines Corporation.