Is the TPF World Ready for the Year 2000?
by Jeff Robinson

"...the software industry isn't used to taking long-term preventative steps ... I expect that most companies will not start worrying about the [Year 2000] problem until 1999. For some, this will be too late." - Capers Jones, Chairman, Software Productivity Research, Inc.

While recently watching C-SPAN, I was stunned to hear government IS managers reveal to a congressional sub-committee that they were not prepared to do Year 2000 maintenance until the third quarter of 1999. Understandably, one congressman flat-out rejected that proposal asking, "when has the federal government ever been able to meet a scheduled project can we expect to start a critical maintenance project such as this in June or July of 1999 and expect to be finished by January 1, 2000?"

Surely by now everyone knows about the Year 2000 problem facing the world-wide computing industry. The demand for COBOL programmers is unbelievable and I've heard that some contract salaries can go as high as $150 per hour! If you have any COBOL experience, now may be a good time to consider a career change.

Of course, the basis for the Year 2000 crisis is simple and straight-forward: there's a lot of code out there written only to print, process, and manipulate dates within this century. Now, we in the TPF world are not immune to this problem; Even though most shops use the PARS date algorithm, there's still the problem of programs which use and print dates in the converted (or unconverted) EBCDIC form that assumes that the century digits are always "19". And what about those shops that actually store dates in its displayable, EBCDIC format to tape, file records, or DB2 databases?

Below is a list of Year 2000 maintenance concerns that I've gleaned from talking to others and from Year 2000 web-sites that I thought may be of interest to TPF shops (this list is by no means exhaustive):

  1. Do you have software which use different date formats that assumes "19" as the century?
  2. Do you have software that performs "sorts" or "selects" data based on an EBCDIC date?
  3. Do you have programs that are still storing dates assuming "19" as the century?
  4. Have you thoroughly researched all the places where "19" is hard-coded in your system?
  5. Does any of your software abuse the century field, such as using "00" to indicate that no date is present or "99" to indicate the last record?
  6. Are your software engineers testing for dates just in the year 2000 or are they going beyond (.i.e., 2003,2010, etc.) ?
  7. Do you have software which assumes that any two-digit year before the PARS date is a date in the 21sth century (such as the year "50" meaning "2050")?
  8. Are you verifying that dates which may span the century mark are allowed and printed correctly (i.e., "27Dec99 - 05Jan00" may need to change to "27Dec1999 - 05Jan2000") ?
  9. Are you changing error-handling software to permit customers to enter dates within the 21st century?
  10. Have you made your date conversion utilities smart enough to convert dates in either century to correct century?

(For a more exhaustive checklist of maintenance concerns being voiced by the industry, check out the World-Wide Web.)

TPF's Global Year 2000 Problem
In addition to all of the regular in-house software problems that TPF shops are facing, many shops will also have to code and test for inter-connectivity correctness with externally controlled systems - a lot of them run under TPF. In fact, external connections and real-time links for some shops are the life-blood of their business. Although such inter-communications between Central reservations systems have been a boon to the world heretofore, will they prove to be a bust come January 1, 2000?

For instance, a hotel company that runs TPF is usually connected to a "property management system" at each individual hotel. Usually, these systems are developed and maintained by independent vendors which have their own priorities. This scenario could pose a serious headache to those shops that are trying to make Year 2000 changes but can't do any testing because the property-level systems haven't been changed.

Likewise, most airline TPF systems are directly linked to other airline systems, hotel systems and even car rental systems. In fact, the enormity and complexity of the interactions of such a system earns it the name "Global Distribution System" because it usually has connections all over the world. Now, imagine the depth of testing that such a system will have to undergo before it can truly say that its Year 2000 ready. Not only will the GDS have to complete Year 2000 changes in-house, but it will also have to ensure that each of its vendor partners have all completed their changes in order to verify that customer services won't be disrupted come January 1, 2000.

I imagine that financial TPF shops will have their hands full also, especially since a lot of the financial institutions are connected and inter-connected several times over via networks such as CIRRUS, PULSE, PLUS, HONOR and countless other combinations. Would you trust your banking transactions to an institution that didn't test (and re-test) its interoperability with these external networks?

If Anything Can Go Wrong, It Will Go Wrong...
I think that these monster computer systems and networks have gotten the best of us here in the 20th century. Now, I don't mean that in a negative way; what I mean is that all over the world mankind is dependent (sometimes helplessly dependent) on the correct functioning of computers. If you pause to think about all the things you take granted that's powered by computer, surely, you'll understand what I mean.

Will the computing industry (as well as the TPF world) be ready when the Year 2000 rolls around? I can only hope so but in case things do go wrong here are a few tips of paranoia I'll leave you with:

  1. Although Friday, December 31, 1999 is most likely a payday, don't deposit any money in the bank until the following Monday, January 3, 2000.
  2. If you check into a hotel before the year 1999 ends, on the morning of January 1st, 2000 be the first one at the front desk to make sure you're still listed as a registered guest.
  3. If your credit or debit cards have dates that span the century mark, be sure you have enough cash or travelers checks in case none of them work after the new year.
  4. If you're traveling by plane during that time, be prepared for long lines and frustrated air travelers when you arrive at the airport after the new century has begun.
  5. If you're renting a car while on vacation, call the car rental agency and ensure that their system still show you has having the car on rental and not listed as overdue (or even worst, stolen).