Technology services prepared for Y2K

Although the year 2000 will bring problems to most computers when the actual year arrives, Technology Services has been dealing with the situation since the class of 2000 was admitted to Williams. Many of the Williams’ most important systems- the fire alarm/intrusion alarm system, the card access system, and payroll and registration databases- were made compliant several years ago. There are still many susceptible systems, however. Even now, a full year before the turn of the century, Technology Services Director of Information Dinny Taylor says her team is “facing problems every day.”

So what exactly is the Year 2000 – or “Y2K” – problem? Most electronic devices record the date using only two digits for the year. As a result, the year “99” will give way to “00” – to many computers, an illogical leap. Many fear that the machines could shut down completely or react as though it were the year 1900, though the chance that some may continue functioning normally is also feasible. Already there have been complaints that VCRs lose programming capabilities once the date January 1, 2000 has been entered, the VCR itself still may function properly.

Although the technology teams get frequent complaint calls about program problems due to code glitches prompted by Y2K, no major foul-ups have occurred. The Bursar’s office has encountered a minor problem with the way a screen was displayed when prompted by a year 2000 date. The only recent problem the Buildings and Grounds office encountered is the failure of the “Focus” program, which consequently will not allow cars to be booked into the year 2000.

Security Systems Controller Tina VanLuling reports that the Security Office has been prepared since upgrading was completed six months ago. The Security Office is responsible for two of the more important systems on campus: the card access system and the fire/intrusion alarm system. Dining Services Data Systems Specialist Mary Garand recounts that Dining Services has had no problems, which she attributes to the newly revamped card access system and the means through which the college has handled the problem.

While Taylor acknowledges that locating all glitches ahead of time is close to impossible, her team has been successful in identifying fifty-four “mission critical” systems. Computer technicians on campus have separated into specific groups in order to tackle the campus’ diverse computer systems most effectively. One team oversees the databases such as those for financial aid and student enrollment, while the network and systems group focuses on the networks across campus. The instructional technology group maintains the faculty computers that are coded for specific research projects or department-specific programs such as “Mathematica” or “Photoshop.”

Another desktop computer team focuses on the PCs across campus. According to Student Technology Consultant (STC) Ian Brown ’02, most personal computers are compliant with the year 2000. In fact, STC Hunter Greene ’02 says that Macintosh computers are compliant until the year 29,940 – in the case that we are still around to use them. The fact that a computer is Y2K compliant, however, adds STC Reed Wiedower ’00, does not mean that the programs on the computer are also Y2K compliant.

For the most part, each administrative office on campus is responsible for locating its own Y2K glitches. Offices have been encouraged to test their programs ahead of time by entering potentially problematic dates, and reporting difficulties. Office managers report directly to Provost Stuart Crampton and Vice President for the Administration Helen Ouellette who, as “senior officers,” act as intermediaries between college offices and technology teams.

A professional consultant was just hired to oversee the systems’ transitions into the new millennium. David Holland, Bursar for Williams College, feels that “Williams has done a pretty good job by getting consultants familiar with the system we already had.” Many systems don’t even need the assistance of the technology teams if the system vendors – those who sell the systems to the college – have guaranteed that the systems are year 2000 compliant. Electricity supplier Massachusetts Electric recently reported to campus administrators that they were working on the date change predicament, and affirmed that the problem was under control.

John Holden, Associate Director for Operations in the Buildings and Grounds Department, has made sure to receive assurance “in writing” from vendors stating that the more important systems such as the card access system and the fire alarm/intrusion alarm system are compliant. According to Holden, the fire alarm system is not as susceptible to year 2000 glitches since it only relies on the date for accurate reports, as opposed to proper functioning.

He predicts that problems may occur in some thermostats and elevators on campus, since many contain chips so small that they may be overlooked by those repairing the devices. He expects that New Year’s Day will cause these chips to shut down. He adds, though, that many of the elevators on campus are not advanced enough to warrant computer complication. Holden believes that the hardest part of the process will be predicting where glitches will occur, not fixing the glitches themselves.

“Students need to be warm, they need to eat, and people need to be paid. Beyond that, things can wait,” concludes Taylor. She does note, though, that “there will always be things that don’t work” due to the Y2K glitch. Taylor believes Williams to be much more prepared to tackle the problems compared to many other schools scrambling to make their systems Y2K compliant. Her office maintains a website about the plan at “www.williams.edu/admin-depts/oit/home/admin/y2k.html.”