A Last Check at Six Users

After years of costly work, date change brought IT benefits, with very few glitches

The six companies Computerworld followed in its Year 2000 Chronicles series were braced for disaster but expecting a normal day when the century changed. They encountered the latter. What follows is the series epilogue, by Gary H. Anthes, Thomas Hoffman, Maryfran Johnson and Julia King.

Merrill Lynch

When it comes to the $520 million Merrill Lynch & Co. committed to its year 2000 project, Executive Vice President Ed Goldberg said he considers the money well spent. "I can't begin to imagine what would have happened if we didn't commit the resources we did to this problem," said Goldberg, who has overseen the brokerage's Y2K efforts.

Because Merrill Lynch has passed through the date change with only a few minor issues -- such as the wrong dates stamped on a few reports -- the New York-based firm suspended its command center coverage on Friday, said Jim Murtha, the firm's senior vice president of mandated initiatives.

Merrill Lynch's command center will be back in business to track end-of-month, leap-year and end-of-quarter processing, Murtha said.

CIBC

John Burns said he sensed that the world's year 2000 transition would go smoothly. But it has gone even better than anticipated, with none of the infrastructure snafus he expected.

In fact, the Y2K transition at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) has gone so well that the bank is lowering its total Y2K budget from $164.68 million (U.S.) to $159.88 million, said Burns, CIBC's vice president of projects.

The Toronto bank has also downsized its Y2K project office, sending employees to work on new assignments. Meanwhile, the bank will keep an eye on end-of-month and leap-year processing, said Burns. "We anticipate those dates will go as smoothly as the other ones we've had," he added.

Nabisco

"It was a big yawn," Nabisco Inc.'s Tony Del Duca said of the Y2K nonevent. "Everything had been scripted out, and we just took it step by step by step. There were virtually no surprises other than we executed much faster than we thought we could."

Del Duca, who is the vice president of enterprise supply-chain systems at Nabisco, attributed the smooth sailing to three years of careful planning and good project management.

But was it all really necessary? "The fallout will be, 'Why did you spend all that money?' " Del Duca said. "But in retrospect, our (systems) portfolio would not take us there. The systems were defective, and we had to replace them."

The project turned out to be a lot less painful than the Y2K managers at Nabisco thought it would be, Del Duca said. "The only surprise, maybe, is that we are all still here and flourishing."

Conectiv

Chris Arena, former Y2K project manager at Conectiv, makes no apologies and has absolutely zero regrets about spending nearly $15 million to prepare the $2 billion electric utility's computer systems for the new millennium.

So what if it was a nonevent in the public's eyes? And so what if not a single reporter showed up on New Year's Eve to interview executives or eat the holiday snacks the company had set out in a special press room outside of a Y2K war room in Newark, Del.?

What counts, Arena said, is "we had no showstoppers. We spent close to but less than $15 million, and that's something we can be proud of, especially since a lot of other companies spent triple that amount and have no more to show for it."

New Year's Eve went off without a hitch at Conectiv, as system after system rolled over to 2000. The one glitch that surfaced later was with a little-used tax application that had been slated for retirement in 1998 when two regional utilities merged to form Conectiv. As it turned out, finance workers who had signed off on scrapping the system had continued to use it anyway.

"It's really a nuisance thing," Arena said. "We didn't expect to be running the application at this time. But it's still the little things that get people nervous."

Union Pacific

When all was said and done at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, Union Pacific Corp. was able to put back in its pocket $4.4 million of the $61 million it had budgeted for Y2K readiness.

"We had the (nearly) $5 million for contingencies that we didn't need," said Tim Brechbill, year 2000 project manager at the $9 billion rail company. "For all practical purposes, we found nothing (in the way of problems) at all."

What excitement was to be had during the systems rollover came just after midnight on New Year's Eve, when, in a totally non-systems-related incident, the electric power at one of Union Pacific's Nebraska facilities went out. "Somebody had shot a transformer in celebration," Brechbill said.

Of the $61 million Union Pacific had budgeted for Y2K fixes, $46 million was spent on systems related directly to the railroads, including a companywide upgrade of 14,000 desktops to Windows NT. Other notable Y2K project-related benefits include a new companywide voice mail and conference-call system that was replaced rather than upgraded.

For Brechbill, Y2K is already a thing of the past. On Jan. 3, he distributed requests for proposals for new customer relationship management software, a project he'll be managing for at least the next year.

C. R. Bard

Paul Maszczak, the Y2K czar at C. R. Bard Inc., actually slept through the turn of the century after a final 6 p.m. check that night at the Murray Hill, N.J.-based company's data center. "I'm kind of sorry it went so smoothly. We had not a single problem anywhere," he said. "If it had gone badly, we would have been more appreciated! It's not really a letdown that I'm feeling, but something is definitely missing."

The only snafu that appeared in the aftermath of Bard's $11 million Y2K project was a user mistakenly entering 01/01/99 instead of the correct "00" for the year. "He thought it was a Y2K problem, but it was a brain problem," Maszczak chuckled.

As for the criticisms that information technology people overhyped the year 2000 problem and overspent to fix it, he dismissed such claims. "Good people always make it look easy," he said.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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