Local businesses prepare for Y2K

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 6/2/99.

With a half year before the onset of the year 2000, is your business ready?

Have you checked to see if your computer equipment and programs are Y2K compliant? Have you contacted the manufacturers or vendors of products to ask whether they are compliant?

You don't need to be a computer expert to make some basic Y2K preparations. Just writing letters to vendors and manufacturers of computer products and other equipment is a good start. Find out if they believe your equipment will work once the date changes to the year 2000.

Actual testing may require an outside computer expert, but your manufacturer or vendor may be able to help. Testing programs are also on the Internet.

One word of caution: testing a computer by advancing the date is not without risk. Doing this could identify a problem, but might advance that problem by six months.

"Work for a smooth passage into the year 2000," advises the Minnesota Newspaper Association. "If nothing happens, it will be because everyone did his or her part."

Financial institutions
The Y2K readiness of financial institutions has been under tight watch from regulators. For banks, the Department of Commerce targeted finishing the third phase of on-site examinations by the first quarter of 1999. So far less than three percent of state-chartered banks have received less than satisfactory ratings.

In Paynesville, all three financial institutions have made extensive preparations for Y2K.

Community First National Bank began preparation around January 1999. They listed all equipment that could be affected, contacted all their vendors, and got results of testing in writing. They considered their computers, automatic teller machine, the phone system, and even the electric sign that shows the temperature.

"Most of the work we had to do was either to call or write the vendor," said Cheryl Person. The work at the bank here is done, according to Person. Their office in Fargo is keeping the records and making contingency plans. "We're hoping and thinking it will go pretty smoothly," said Person, "but we're making plans for the worst case."

Farmers and Merchants State Bank set an in-house deadline of June 1 to be ready for Y2K. Recently, they completed their last testing with federal regulators. Joe Spaulding said the bank has been testing for nine months and that it is 99 percent finished.

In testing, they have used Jan. 1, 2000, and an additional 13 dates in 2000 and 2001.

They upgraded one computer, but their software is always upgraded three times a year. Their contingency plans are also fine.

"We look at it from our standpoint as just another day," said Spaulding. "We've tested and we'll continue to test from now until the end of the year."

In September of 1998, the Melrose Credit Union offices shut their doors to perform a full day of testing. "We looked at every possible function performed by the system," said Bernie Brixius. "We did everything that could be done. Everything we would do in the course of business."

The tests included day-to-day, quarterly, and annual transactions. Everything did not work perfectly then, but some problems were fixed during the course of the weekend and others were followed up on and then retested.

"Our biggest expense has been monitoring and testing," said Brixius. "We haven't had much upgrade expense."

"We found out we were okay, but that was real important to find out. You can't just assume it," added Brixius.

Contingency plans are in place, but nothing is static, according to Brixius. They continue to track and improve all their critical functions and are communicating with their members.

Health care
Efforts at the hospital are following a similar pattern: starting with letters to manufacturers, testing of equipment, and contingency planning. Much of the letter writing to manufacturers has been done by department.

"We have many of those letters back already, and we feel we're on track and we'll accomplish it," said Dale Wirkula, the Y2K coordinator for the hospital system.

Testing has started, but hasn't been reported to Wirkula, who keeps the master files, yet.

Computers are really just the tip of the iceberg at the hospital. Most are fine; a few needed upgrades.

Aside from equipment that might be affected, the hospital needs to insure essential services will continue. For instance, blood supply is just one such item. The system will be getting extra supplies, but doesn't want to engage in hoarding, either.

The hospital set up a Y2K committee in 1998. The goal is to have representation from throughout the system, to have input from people who actually use the equipment.

"We want to make sure that we are ready well in advance of the end of the year," said Wirkula. "Nobody likes to work under the pressure of a deadline."

A big job in preparing is making contingency plans. Wirkula said they consider all scenarios, to keep from being caught flat-footed. "We want to plan for all possibilities, and that's very difficult at times," he said.

The hospital has an auxiliary power source, but would need to prioritize functions if they are forced to use it. Who can predict what the health care needs could be? Will people seek refuge at the hospital?

Or a seemingly less complex problem: how to insure clean hands if there's no water for washing? "This is just one example of one of the many small things we have to look at," said Wirkula.

He is impressed with the cooperative approach of the staff and the seriousness of the efforts.

Positive attitudes
Cal Sixta said ColorMax has contacted its vendors and was told its Macintosh computers are Y2K compliant. "That's about all you can do," he said, of having trust in your vendors.

For contingency purposes, they have backed up all their data. "We're anticipating minor disruptions," said Sixta. Any more than that--power outages, for example--and they'll go fishing.

"If it's worse...we'll deal with it," said Sixta. "There's no sense in fretting about it."

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