U computers need upgrade

by Brett Martin

The University is gearing up to spend nearly $8 million to upgrade a computer system that currently cannot recognize the coming millennium or the impending conversion from quarters to semesters.
“The coming year 2000 and the conversion to semesters are challenges that these old systems cannot meet without extensive and expensive modifications,” according to a newsletter published by the Student 2000 Project. The mission of the project, headed by University Student/Office Systems Support Administrator Roberta Armstrong, is the replacement of existing student record information systems with new systems that can handle upcoming changes.
“All of the big systems are being looked at,” said Armstrong, adding that unless the modifications are made, all the computers on campus will simply roll over to 1900 after the year 1999, much like a car’s odometer does after recording 99,999 miles.
Another problem in older computer systems is that information is sorted by the last two digits in the date. If the problem is not corrected, University transcripts will list courses taken in the year 2000 before courses taken in 1999 because “00” comes before “99.” This will cause errors in associated cumulative indexes, such as grade point averages.
Currently, there are more than 25 systems at the University that hold more than 600,000 student records. The systems support functions ranging from admissions and financial aid to a course inventory and information required by the federal government.
Armstrong emphasized that the necessary $8 million won’t provide a new system, merely update the existing one, which is already inadequate.
Of the budgeted $8 million, nearly $4 million is allotted for changes necessary to convert from academic quarters to semesters. The rest of the money is earmarked to fix the year 2000 problem.
The coming of the year 2000 is an issue for computers worldwide. Indeed, the cost of fixing the federal government’s system is estimated at $30 million.
“It strikes me as strange that people who designed these systems wouldn’t have taken (the year 2000) into account,” said Rob Super, acting controller for the University’s business services.
Jane Barnard, assistant director for application development in the Office of Information Technology, said “we are ahead of the game” because the University completed an impact analysis last fall. The process defined which systems need to be changed or replaced and which systems do not require any changes. A full-time manager was recently hired to coordinate the project, Barnard said.
There are 5 million lines of program code that are affected, although not all require changes. “We are not spending a penny more on 2000 then we absolutely have to,” Barnard said.
The shelf life of applications systems for computers is seven years, and many University systems are 20 years old, Barnard said. Even without the problem of the year 2000, the systems would need to be replaced, she said. By 1998, a test cycle will begin that will provide a two-year window for testing large systems so they will be ready by the year 2000, she added.
The software package chosen to replace the current systems must be approved by the Board of Regents before being installed on campus.