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Y2K in Retrospect
by David Lassner

This week, if you were to ask around about major issues in information technology, you'd be likely to hear a litany of: my computer is too slow (or doesn't have enough memory); the classroom technology is obsolete (or non-existent); I don't understand my PC; our information systems aren't integrated or friendly enough; how can I learn more about using technology in teaching; or what can I do about junk e-mail. But just a few months ago such a list would have started and ended with Y2K.

By now everyone is calling Y2K a "non-event." This was no accident or miscalculation, but the result of a huge amount of effort by our talented and committed information technology staff. Sure, a lot of the hype about planes falling out of the sky and surviving months without power or water was just that - hype. And perhaps there was excessive management, communication, and record keeping in some organizations -- largely driven by the fear of post-Y2K legal action in our litigious society.

But there is absolutely no doubt that older information systems built with two-digit calculational fields to hold the year really did need to be repaired or replaced. And this seemingly simple task rippled into a massive undertaking that involved computer hardware, operating systems, multiple computer languages, database management systems, applications software, and endless testing. At UH this work was done with little fanfare on all our campuses and system offices. No new positions were added for Y2K; in fact, with the budget shortfalls of the 90s most support offices have been staffed at lower levels than before Y2K projects started. And with a few exceptions, no major hardware or software acquisitions took place just to address Y2K problems. Rather, our dedicated professionals in every office made fixing institutional Y2K problems by December 31 their highest priority.

The success of these efforts is demonstrated by the fact that Y2K turned out to be merely a blip for most of the University. Students returned from the holidays and added and dropped classes. Lecturers were hired and paychecks were distributed on schedule. Purchase orders were issued and vendors paid. February 29 came and passed without incident.

For most of the information technology world, Y2K was the primary focus throughout 1999 and a major project for at least several of the preceding years. Now, we're on to this year's challenges and we're planning for the same level of success!

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