Has Indian Affairs found a silver date code bullet?

BIA computer specialists
Rick Namm and Susan Ellison use Millennium Solution to fix bureau date code.





There may not be a silver bullet with which to slay the year 2000 problem, but at least
one agency official believes a small company’s remediation software comes close.


Millennium Solution, from Data Integrity Inc. of Waltham, Mass., greatly sped up the
Bureau of Indian Affairs date code work, said Ed Socks, BIA’s year 2000 project
manager.


The software fixes date code by redoing the math formulas, rather than by requiring
date codes to have four-digit year entries, Socks said.


Interior Department officials were skeptical when they first watched the Digital
Integrity tool at work, Socks said, because the solution seemed too easy.


It was only when bureau officials ran through 8,000 lines of code in four minutes using
the tool that Mona Infield, BIA branch chief, said she began to take notice. Date code
remediation is usually labor-intensive, requiring teams of programmers, she said.


There may not be a silver bullet with which to slay the year 2000 problem, but at least
one agency official believes a small company’s remediation software comes close.


Millennium Solution, from Data Integrity Inc. of Waltham, Mass., greatly sped up the
Bureau of Indian Affairs date code work, said Ed Socks, BIA’s year 2000 project
manager.


The software fixes date code by redoing the math formulas, rather than by requiring
date codes to have four-digit year entries, Socks said.


Interior Department officials were skeptical when they first watched the Digital
Integrity tool at work, Socks said, because the solution seemed too easy.


It was only when bureau officials ran through 8,000 lines of code in four minutes using
the tool that Mona Infield, BIA branch chief, said she began to take notice. Date code
remediation is usually labor-intensive, requiring teams of programmers, she said.


The bureau paid $200,000 for the program, Data Integrity spokesman Doug Black said. It
searched and fixed 1.58 million lines of code over a 10-day period, he said, which
translates to about 14 cents per line, including labor costs.


The tool helped put BIA ahead of its year 2000 schedule, said George Gover, acting
director of BIA’s IRM Office.


The software works by hunting out calculations where a two-digit date will cause a
systems error, said Allen Burgess, chief executive officer of Data Integrity. The software
is efficient because it only makes a fix when a math function will trigger a problem, and
not every time a two-digit date entry appears, he said.


Some year 2000 tools require programmers to add two digits to each date occurrence in a
line of code. But that leaves room for human error, Burgess said.


Another common automated year 2000 tool is windowing, which changes the formula logic
so a program recognizes the date correction, essentially appending the 19 or 20 to
existing two-digit date entries.


The year 2000 problem is a question of math, Burgess said. Systems have a problem with
two-digit dates when the computer needs to figure a person’s age, for example. To
figure how old a person born in 1938 is in 2000, systems using two-digit date fields would
calculate that person as -38. Data Integrity’s tool adds 50 and then adds 50 again to
arrive at the correct age of 62, he said.


The program adds 50 twice instead of 100 once, because an application that uses
two-digit numbers for the calculation cannot recognize 100, Burgess explained.


BIA oversees land trusts for American Indian tribes in its Land Records Inventory
System, officials said. BIA wants to fix more than 2 million lines of code in its 15
mission-critical systems by December, Socks said.


The tool is not a cure-all, Socks said. Though it has worked well for BIA systems that
are written in Cobol, it is unclear whether it will work with all code, he said.


Andy Bochman, a senior analyst for the Aberdeen Group of Boston, which examined
Millennium Solution, said the program has yet to be fully tested in the field.
“Before I completely recommend it, I’d like to see a few more people have luck
with it,” he said.


Several financial institutions, including Citibank, Credit Suisse and NationsBank, have
used the tool, but Data Integrity only began widely promoting it recently, after it
received a patent, Burgess said. 

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