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Practical Guide to the Year 2000 Problem

written about the Year 2000 and its effects on Embedded Systems for industries like shipping. In spite of all this information shipping owners and managers are still groping for insight and direction as a means to resolving the perceived exposure to their own organizations. What complicates matters is that the proliferation of embedded devices has gone virtually unnoticed, leaving a large contingent confused and unsure about the next step. By now the dreaded "Year 2000" (aka. Y2K, Millennium Bug) and the possibility of embedded chip problems for the shipping industry is, or should be, a top agenda item for most companies. There is a great deal to be concerned about and its degree of severity varies depending on numerous factors. The Year 2000 problem is here and it is real, and only a strong plan of action and subsequent implementation can "cure" it.

The heart of the matter While it is true that embedded chips are at the crux of the problem, it is highly unlikely that they will be individually focused on as a means for repair or resolution. Shipping and many other industries will focus on systems or sub-systems that may, in fact, have tens, if not, hundreds of embedded computer chips.

Repairs, if that should become necessary, will be in the form of replacement of whole units, devices, or system level computer boards. Thus the proper term for this variation of the Millennium problem should be Embedded Systems or Devices. The following, then, is meant to serve as a practical guidance to address a company's individual issues associated with Embedded Systems.

In its truest form this is a management and resources issue. This is especially the case for some larger transportation companies with senior management that insist that they don't have a problem. These shipping organizations will be hard pressed to rally the necessary skills and personnel to tackle the analysis and repairs that may be necessary for their sizable fleets at this late time period.

This is not to say that it cannot be done. But given the fact that the information technology community is now fighting to find and keep qualified people to address their own problems and the shipping industry is also struggling with staffing issues, the odds against a successful resolution seem to be mounting. But take heart because there is still some time left and it is essential that you act quickly to address what could be a problem for your own organization. A key component, today, is time: the longer you wait, the less options remain, the more expensive the fix becomes.

Management and Resources To assume that an organization's computer specialist, administrator, or department can tackle the problem of or by themselves may expose an organization to "the bite of the Bug." Yet another problem associated with management is the bureaucratic positions many senior executives take regarding the extent of their Year 2000 problem. These positions can not only expose the organization to business interruption but also open the door of legal retaliation by regulators, employers, and shareholders to the same senior managers who believed in what they were doing, or not doing.

Resources used in Year 2000 efforts may not be as easy to address. Within the shipping industry, manpower is likely to be stretched thin due to the high demand for qualified seamen and the need for keeping overhead costs to a bare minimum because of diminishing returns.

This places most small shipping companies in a quandary because there is little money to pay for an effort of this type; however, ignoring the need to address the problem may have dire consequences.

Larger companies are dealing with similar issues but enjoy modest margins and therefore may be in a better position to act quickly. A number of companies have organized internal staff to begin the process of addressing the Millennium prob- '/ lem with the intent ' of either taking it to completion or contracting the portion that is believed to be beyond their capability. Although this is a healthy approach it is still advisable to seek professional help from the inception of the project ensuring that regimented practices are followed in developing and deploying their Year 2000 Project Plan, visible process adherence, honest reporting, and supply chain management. Prudent companies will judiciously integrate internal resources with external expertise, qualified and competent information technology specialists.

Pick a direction Education — beginning at the senior executive level and communicated to management and staff — is an important beginning that will help set the proper course to your ultimate destination. Awareness of this type can be obtained from a competent information technology service provider that can conduct a training program related to your industry and specifically tailored to a particular organization. While costs vary, it is perhaps more important to realize the high stakes of not solving the problem now. Also, and perhaps more importantly, there there are few service companies that have done much, if any, Embedded Device work.

Those that have are, and will be, gainfully employed for the next 16 months with little to no breathing space in between engagements. There are however, numerous organizations that have managed successful hardware and software development projects and understand the structure and disciples necessary to manage and deliver results for Year 2000 efforts. Most of these organizations may already be involved in one or more industry segments providing service in either Mainframe Systems Repair, Network Systems Resolution, Embedded System Solutions, or all three.

Now that the problem has been acknowledged, it is time make decisions about money and people. These decisions will help to set realities about expenditures associated with the overall effort.

Additionally, responsible parties can be designated to spearhead the initial stage of work in addressing exposure to the Millennium problem. A team would then be selected to begin developing a project plan, which will address issues such as: 1 ] The focus on what should be repaired or replaced, 2] Length of time necessary to repair or replace, 3] Responsible parties assigned to each action, 4] Timelines associated with repairs or replacements. One of the first, obvious tasks, is taking an inventory of all equipment that is suspected of having embedded systems.

Following that will be all of the standard steps in addressing Embedded System.

These steps or methodologies can be found in various publications circulated both in hard copy and on the Internet. Now is the time to consider using an outside company to assist in the development of a project plan and all of the work that follows regardless of your concerns about cost control or value for your money. Smaller companies light on resources and personnel should start placing calls to local or national computer service providers. Be prepared to ask some hard questions, such as: • Have you done Embedded Systems work specifically for the Marine Industry? • If not, have you worked on any Embedded Systems regardless of industry? • Are you now or have you ever worked on any Year 2000 related projects? Details.

• Do you have an established methodology for Embedded Systems? If so, ask to see it.

• Have you worked on a software development project from beginning to end? • Please explain the first thing you would do if awarded this project.

Once you select a contractor, work very closely with the project management and staff, because no matter what the organization's background and experience, no one knows your business better than you. Whether large or small, there are bare minimum requirements to addressing your specific issues for Embedded Systems. First, do not delay any longer than necessary. Next, be prepared to dedicate adequate resources such as money, people or both. Do your homework when looking for good project management support from a service provider. Next, address the business management issues such as risk assessment and contingency planning. Don't underestimate the need to forecast and plan. No matter how small your company might be it would benefit from having an understanding of the risks specific to your own company. Once it is clear what you can potentially expect, then you can plan alternatives or remedial action which may avert business interruption or a life threatening accident. And finally, employ technical resources that may be at your disposal.

All organizations within the shipping industry face similar issues, each looking for easy answers to a question that requires a great deal of thought and analysis. Immediate action is required, coupled with a heightened sense of urgency.

Those companies which expediently address this problem will be competitively positioned to capture a great deal of business in the new Millennium. An opportunity to compete with the giants within your industry, and possibly win because your ships have been generally accepted as being Year 2000 compliant. Alfredo Frederick Rodriguez is the senior Vice President of Embedded Systems Solutions for Software Control International, Inc. an SCI Consulting Company. Mr. Rodriguez has been involved in the Information Technology Industry for over 20 years.

 
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