Assess risks to avoid Y2K bug now, says analyst

by Hilary Thomson
Staff writer

Pop all the champagne corks you want on Dec. 31, 1999 -- just be careful you don't end up with a digital hangover, warns Nadine Hofmann.

A programmer analyst with Information Technology (IT) Services, Hofmann is project leader for the UBC Y2K Awareness program.

It aims to provide a unified approach to tackling Year 2000 computer problems, also known as the millennium bug.

"We're encouraging people to assess their risks as soon as possible and draw up a contingency plan," says Hofmann.

Problems arise in computer operating systems and application software that use two digits in date fields to represent the year. In 14 months' time, these systems will show the year as "00" and make no distinction between 1900 and 2000, creating havoc with time-related functions.

Once the date function fails, the entire electronic system may malfunction.

Any system using embedded microchips -- chips that act as microprocessors and respond to information -- is at risk.

ITServices is working to correct core systems such as telephones, e-mail, Interchange accounts and its own networks.

Financial Services has updated the Financial Management Information System and the payroll and pension systems and are reviewing small custom-designed programs to determine if upgrades are needed.

The Registrar's Office has corrected the Student Information System. Telereg, the telephone student registration system, is under review.

The Purchasing Dept. will ensure all suppliers can deliver as usual after Jan. 1, 2000.

Hofmann is consulting with groups including Plant Operations, Housing and Conferences, Food Services and Campus Security to help them ensure everything from door alarms to cash registers will work Jan. 1, 2000.

"I'm concerned that students and researchers be aware of the problem and check out their personal systems," she says. "Also, departments that have created customized applications on stand-alone systems or have their own departmental e-mail servers may be at risk if they don't act now."

Don't ignore external links, cautions Hofmann. Data, such as billing information that is electronically linked to other departments, needs to be bug-proof at both ends of the connection.

The Y2K Web page at provides links to major vendors of the hardware and software currently used at UBC. Vendors outline solutions to make their equipment or programs comply.

Remedies may include replacing hardware or upgrading to a newer version of an operating system or software.

All Macintosh computer systems and software and most other systems purchased within the last five years are designed to be Y2K compliant, according to Hofmann. She encourages users to check their systems just in case.

For PC users who aren't sure if they have a problem, a Year 2000 test for PCs can be found in the IT Services newsletter at

"These tests take only a few minutes and they may save a lot of trouble and money later on," says Hofmann.

ITServices is available to help users test equipment and software, convert and install software and convert data files with two digit dates to four digit dates.

Hofmann urges individuals who are buying equipment or software to state clearly on the purchase order that the product must be certified against millennium bug problems.