University begins to tackle Y2K one department at a time

by Erin Ghere

Although the University is a conglomeration of departments, colleges and other miscellaneous entities, it still operates like any other business — especially when it comes to the potential for Y2K problems.
With the large number of computers under the University’s care, Y2K compliance is a big job; $450,000 of the University’s 1999-2000 budget is designated for Y2K initiative project coordination.
But the funds allocated for Y2K compliance are not going to be used for the actual work, said Carol Fleck of the University’s Department of Budget and Finance.
The allocation is to be used for salaries for University officials who are coordinating the process. Each department and/or college is responsible for updating their own computers, but several officials will oversee the entire project.
Departments and colleges will choose how to become Y2K compliant, whether it be somewhere in the University or an outside source.
The University has not set any deadlines, Fleck added, because different systems will be affected by Y2K problems at different times. Therefore, each department or college is setting up its own deadlines, based on their compliance needs.
And it seems the University’s movement is just in time. Federal Y2K czar John Koskinen was in St. Paul on Wednesday night promoting preparation, but not panic to a group from the Y2K Community Conversation.
The “bug” that businesses are so afraid of is a programming flaw that could cause computers to malfunction because the internal clock of the computer will fail to read 2000.
For example, a student accepted to the University in 1996 will be nonexistent because the internal clock on the computer will change to 1900. The computer would think that the student will not be enrolled for another 96 years.
A representative from a St. Paul computer rental company said the program flaw could affect computers used for administration purposes more adversely than those used solely for word processing purposes because of the vital information they contain.
There is a potential for students’ academic records and financial files to be lost or damaged if nothing is done to solve the problem.
It is not a difficult problem to fix, he said, but a large one when looking at the number of computers used among the University’s four campuses. Technicians normally solve the Y2K flaw with one of two solutions. The first is to simply update the computer with start-up programs which include a year 2000 in their internal clocks.
The other, and more often used, solution is for technicians to insert a chip into the computer which has an updated system timer on it, and will therefore flip over to 2000 when the time comes.
University officials have prepared for Y2K compliance ahead of time, setting the wheels in motion earlier this year.
The funds set aside in the 1999-2000 budget include payment for work and coordination efforts already completed, as well as what University officials expect to need over the rest of 1999 and 2000, Fleck said.
The funds come from a total of $119 million which the state Legislature allocated for the University’s budget over the next two years. For the 1999-2000 academic year, $55.9 million will be used from that budget.