Competitive Intelligence / Competitive Strategy, by Arik Johnson
by Arik Johnson

WHEW! Worldwide Business Community Narrowly Escapes Y2K Computer Disaster

As I sit before my still-functioning PC, on Saturday afternoon, January 1st 2000, anticipating the excitement of a Wisconsin Badger Rose Bowl victory (my alma mater, who indeed went on to eventually win for the second year in a row, thank-you-very-much) and writing this first column of the "New Millennium", I noticed the only Y2K computer problem I or my employer seemed to have experienced was the benign effects of failure of the JavaScript date stamp on my company's Web site to roll over to 2000. Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0 greets me with a "Saturday 1 January 192000" an even stranger Netscape Navigator 4.7 shows it as "Saturday 1 January 19100".

The coming Apocalypse, now little more than a silly improbability, managed to do little in the way of actual harm and caused very little strife to the global populace, despite warnings that there would probably be "trouble overseas". The U.S. had been well prepared by the armies of computer and business specialists that carried the day. While I actually forgot to prepare for the End of Days myself, by filling my bathtub with water in the event our water pump wouldn't pump with no electricity, my wife and I stayed home most of the evening eating shrimp cocktail and watching "2001: A Space Odyssey" on video (a rebellious act I found a more fitting denial of the "New Millennium" than any other - to wit, I wholeheartedly agree with Sir Arthur C. Clarke that 2001 actually begins the Millennium, and Century for that matter, and have dutifully researched the subject by looking back to turn-of-the-century newspapers declaring the "Triumphal Beginning of the Twentieth Century", not January 1st 1900, but January 1st 1901). Certainly not everything has improved in the last 1000 years, especially our ability to discern the real turnover of a century and, consequentially, if I have to listen to another TV journalist talk about the New Millennium, I'm resolved to quit watching television altogether.

My point is that, we didn't narrowly avert cataclysm by sitting on our hands. Thousands of computer programmers in practically every major organization around the world worked diligently at the mind-numbing and suicidally-boredom-inducing task of converting programming code from legacy systems to accept four-digit years and successfully roll the clocks forward rather than back to 1900 when the bell tolled its twelfth.

The business community took very seriously, much more seriously than the government perhaps, the consequences of NOT repairing the code and embedded chips that would otherwise have failed with the date change. A great deal has been written throughout the past couple of years about Y2K and it's likely outcomes and, rather than voting this was a tragic waste of knowledge transfer, I'd argue the awareness that it raised was essential to the positive outcome we in fact experienced. While this responsibility was largely driven by the overwhelmingly probable legal action product liability attorneys have been salivating over the past couple of years, I'm pretty impressed by the examination that computer systems must've received by their proprietors. Not only were there few serious incidents, I couldn't find a single mentionable loss of services for consumers anywhere in the world.

From automated teller machines to the power grid to the public switched telephone network, we saw no real problems - even those I feared most, the unpredictable reactions of general public hysteria that even I'd anticipated cropping up. For the first time in recent memory, the news media restrained themselves enough to help calm public fears about how events would turn out. The nations of the world did not pick up their telephone receivers or top off their gas tanks or exchange all of their personal assets for cash. And, I suspect, even on Monday, when the world's computers fire up for the first week of business this New Year, we'll be likewise free of complications.

The major implications associated with the successful outcome of the world's business investments in overcoming the, originally, at least, very real threat of Y2K problems are that organizations will now be able to direct the tremendous technological, intellectual and financial capital demanded by Y2K priorities towards new opportunities and challenges. Foremost among the minds of business leaders that means how to take advantage of the incredible changes brought about by e-commerce to the modern business enterprise and its customer relationships. These will include not only, how to reach more customers, but how to add value to customer relationships that already exist, capture greater share of customers when compared with competitors, extend the enterprise value chain to suppliers, customers, distributors and other vendors and integrate the cultural objectives of the firm with the bottom-line return-on-investment metrics management has historically used to quantify success in the market. Perhaps more important, how to build brand loyalty when the deceptions of the distribution chain dissolve away and knowledgeable customers are able to access reliably cost information for products and services and make truly educated buying decisions.

When bricks-and-mortar ventures begin to truly integrate the technological competitive advantage offered by the "e-conomy" and become real Internet businesses - as every business must in order to survive in an age of instant time-to-market and product life cycles measured in days and weeks rather than years - competition will lead to continued growth and prosperity by natural selection in a global, frictionless marketplace. And, with these new challenges will come new opportunities for new kinds of enterprises - perhaps even the actual arrival of the "virtual corporation" concept of "e-lancers" consorting together for mutual enterprise.

However, for now, to all of the applications developers and programmers and solutions providers in the corporate technology industry around the world, you have my sincerest thanks and appreciation for your hard work; and to all of the CIO's and IS directors, thanks for convincing the management team that a proactive, future-oriented approach to risk management and contingency planning was required. And, finally, if anyone has the JavaScript code to correct the time/date stamp on my Web site, I beg you to send it to me at -- then I can be Y2K-compliant for the "New Millennium" too.

Arik R. Johnson is Managing Director of the Competitive Intelligence (CI) outsourcing & support bureau Aurora WDC. Learn more about Arik at his firm's Web site