Windowing could make Y2K linger

Windowing could make Y2K linger

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

Some last-minute quick fixes to make government systems year 2000-ready could make the date code problem resemble the Energizer bunny'it just keeps going and going and going.

One widely used technique to quickly deal with errant date code is windowing. But windowing is
more of a Band-Aid for the problem and has been used mostly by organizations that could not or did not have time to revamp a system's code, agency and industry officials said.

When using windowing techniques, the underlying coding does not change. Instead, a new four-digit year date is inserted anywhere a two-digit date appears in a program. The windowing application, based on a specific period of time, determines whether a two-digit year date will be considered in the 20th or 21st century.

Later for IT

The issue for information technology managers is that windowing will require agencies to revisit problems later because it's not a long-term fix, said Don Arnold, national account manager for Wang Federal Systems of McLean, Va. Eventually, that set period in a windowing application no longer applies, he said.

Agency officials acknowledged such problems and said they will be different from the ones they face today. In some ways the issues will be more complex because agencies must track and monitor systems that will still need code work, Agriculture Department chief information officer Anne Thomson Reed said.

There's also a fiscal hurdle. A House staff member said Congress would be leery of agencies seeking year 2000 assistance long after Dec. 31 has come and gone.

Unlike code reworking where the dates are expanded from two to four digits, the most common form of windowing does not change the dates. Instead, code is inserted at each date so certain dates greater than an established number are considered in the 20th century'66 becomes 1966, for example'and other numbers are considered part of the 21st century'10 becomes 2010.

Some officials said windowing techniques will let systems work for several years, with the systems being replaced before the techniques start to cause problems. But Wang's Arnold said such a view harks back to the time when people discounted the year 2000 problem altogether and made similar comments that all problem systems likely would be replaced before 2000.

Windowing is not the right answer, Arnold said. 'The right answer is to fix the stuff,' he said.

Labor Department deputy CIO Shirley A. Malia, chairwoman of the CIO Council's Year 2000 Committee, said agencies are more prepared to deal with the windowing problem because the instances of its use are dramatically fewer than the instances of date code governmentwide.

Plus, agencies now have an inventory of systems as a result of their year 2000 work, she said. 'We know what the systems are.'

Gregory L. Parham, executive director of USDA's Year 2000 Program Office, said systems that have been readied using windowing must be tracked. USDA has created a database to monitor all its systems, and one of the parameters included is whether a system has a windowed fix, and if so, what the window time period is.

Kathleen M. Adams, a vice president at SRA International Inc. of Arlington, Va., said there are also potential problems with windowing techniques because of data exchanges.

But, overall, the former Social Security Administration systems official said she does not expect disasters because of windowing. 'I don't think it is going to be a big deal,' she said.

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