The University Record, April 1, 1998

Getting the U ready for the Year 2000 Bug

By Bruce Spiher
Information Technology Division

By now, almost everyone on campus should have heard something about the Year 2000 Millennium Bug, also called the Y2K.

Basically, the bug is caused by the way data about years is stored. Some software assumes that the first two digits of a year are "19" and uses a two-digit number instead of a four-digit number. (For example, "89" represents "1989.") This will be a problem when the century changes and the software recognizes the year "00" as "1900" instead of "2000.")

According to one U-M computer expert, the Y2K is essentially a problem in programs. There are three major program areas--software applications, operating systems and programs embedded in hardware. The last is the most difficult because programs embedded in hardware may be embedded in instrumentation. The difficulty in assessing the extent of the problem is compounded because not all programs have it.

So . . . who will determine the impact of Y2K on the University?

Jose-Marie Griffiths, the University's chief information officer, says, "It is vitally important that every unit at the University discover what the Year 2000 Millennium Bug means for them. They need to assess its impact on their critical functions, gather relevant information, and then determine a solution for each of those critical functions. Units should not assume that the Year 2000 problem won't affect them."

The University has been dealing with the anticipated technology problems since the early 1990s, with a significant increase in Y2K activity in recent months. In December, Nancy Cantor, provost and executive vice president academic affairs; Robert Kasdin, executive vice president and chief financial officer; and Gilbert S. Omenn, executive vice president for medical affairs, established a committee to ensure that action is taken campuswide to review all systems.

Members of the Committee to Review Year 2000 Impact are Griffiths, who also is executive director of the Information Technology Division; Robert Moenart, University controller; Laura Patterson, M-Pathways project director; and Glenna Schweitzer, director of budget administration.

The Committee commissioned a working group that has spearheaded the development of several helpful documents--"Year 2000 Issues & Concerns: What the U-M Community Needs To Think About and Address," "Year 2000 Unit Assessment Tool" and "Year 2000 Unit Assessment Summary"--as well as a Web site for the University's Year 2000 effort: http://www.year2000.umich.edu. The issues document and the assessment tools can be found on the Web site.

On April 15, the Record will publish a Year 2000 Tool Kit that will include references to these and other Y2K information.

Steps already have been taken to handle the impact on centrally-managed systems, such as telephones and Data Systems Center administrative systems. However, schools, colleges and departments must move to determine Y2K impact on their unit-specific systems.

All major units were sent a memo Feb. 9 by the Committee to Review Year 2000 Impact asking them to designate a contact person to help the committee.

"It is very important that we identify representatives from the major units on campus who will make sure that all the processes critical to their unit will be evaluated for Year 2000 compliance, that is, to determine if they will work on January 1, 2000," Moenart says. "These people will play an invaluable role in the University's effort to tackle the Y2K problem at the unit level."

By the end of April, on the Web also will be: names of unit representatives; information about vendors of major products and compliance for the products, as well as links to them and the certification; and information about campus units, such as the Health System, to show how they are dealing with Y2K issues.

Questions about Y2K concerns at can be sent via e-mail to um.y2k.questions@umich.edu. Those interested in sharing Y2K information are encouraged to join the mailgroup um.y2k.info@umich.edu.