Emory Report

September 8, 1998

 Volume 51, No. 3

Emory forms Y2K committee to monitor campus efforts

With the turn of the century inching closer each day, the University is shifting into high gear in its efforts to deal with the attendant Year 2000 (commonly known as "Y2K") computer problem.

Emory has formed a Y2K steering committee composed of about 25 individuals representing each of the University's schools and divisions not affiliated with health sciences. The committee's purpose is to review each unit's plans for dealing with the Y2K problem and then monitoring the implementation of those plans.

The Y2K problem stems from many computer systems being programmed to recognize years by only two digits. Hence, when the calendar turns and the last two digits of the year become "00" instead of "99," many computers will think time has moved 99 years backward instead of one year forward. A common example is people's credit cards being refused because computers cannot handle the digit change.

But the problem goes far beyond desktop PCs and even beyond larger computer systems. More and more products are intricately wired with electronic chips, and each of these embedded devices must be tested to see if it is affected by the century change.

"We have to look at all of our heating and air conditioning systems, all of our elevators," said Frank Huff, vice president for finance and chair of the Y2K committee. "Many things that seem to function routintely have those devilish little computer chips embedded in them. Many are not Y2K dependent, but they all have to be checked to see if there's a flaw."

Since so much of its equipment has embedded chips--and since the difference between functional and nonfunctional equipment could literally be life and death--health sciences is two to three years into its own Y2K initiative, involving each of the related schools as well as the clinic and the hospitals.

The new committee and the health sciences project are two of the three ways Emory is approaching Y2K. The Information Technology Division is spearheading the third, which involves the major campuswide systems like human resources, student systems (admissions, financial aid, registrar, etc.) and others. Some systems are being upgraded with PeopleSoft software, while others will simply be "patched" to be Y2K-compliant before being replaced entirely sometime after the turn of the century.

"We're in the process of upgrading 20 different systems, either fixing them outright or replacing them," said Byron Nash, who came to ITD in March specifically to deal with Y2K issues. "We're working feverishly to make sure all those systems are covered for the year 2000."

Nash will work closely with the new steering committee to review the various school and division plans. Huff said the committee hopes to have plans approved for each unit by the end of September, with all the necessary testing and/or modification to be completed by next spring. Provost Rebecca Chopp has sent a letter to all deans and directors requesting they suspend all requests for other types of system modification until after the Y2K problems have been solved.

"It's short-term pain for long-term gain," Huff said. "We're saying, in essence, 'Let's hold off on [other modifications]. We know it might save people a lot of time, but in two years we'll replace the system completely. So get your ideas together so we can incorporate them into the new system."

Huff also stressed that the steering committee itself is not responsible for making sure the individual units' workstations and other equipment is Y2K-compliant. He said the committee's role is "to look over the shoulder and get reports back" from the committee members on progress.

No one knows exactly what will happen at midnight, Jan. 1, 2000, either on Emory's campus or anywhere else in the world. Even if the University makes sure all its systems are Y2K-compliant, Huff said, it could still be affected by problems in external systems.

"Important to health care, for example, will be consituencies such as insurance payors, the Federal Reserve System which processes electronic monies, and our suppliers, from the Red Cross for blood supplies to medical transcription services," Huff said. "Most large corporate entities, such as pharmaceuticals, started on this issue two-and-a-half, three years ago. All of our banks, for instance, we think they're going to be in very good shape. We think."

--Michael Terrazas

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