Do your eyes glaze over when someone mentions the year 2000 problem?
I've started to notice that even customers with thousands of PCs and servers stop listening to me whenever I mention the millennium. 'Yeah, yeah,' they murmur, and then switch off, as if I had said total cost of ownership or desktop management.
It could be that out in Dealerland, we have overdone it. When you see full page articles in The Sun explaining what goes on inside computer chips (it has happened) and warning of worldwide havoc, it's time to get serious.
Fear, uncertainty and doubt are fine, traditional selling tools, but now we need some tough and practical approaches to our customers. The canny heads among them are already asking us to make promises we may not be able to keep. They want us to declare in contracts that everything we deliver from now on will be OK for the year 2000, and then take the consequences if we're wrong.
As part of ICL, Tplc naturally has a complete set of services for customers, branded Dateproof2000, and over 450 people working to meet the demand which our salesforce uncovers. The idea is to balance a new business opportunity to sell services, hardware and software with our responsibilities to customers.
The first step is to make sure customers understand they will have problems with their PCs, servers, and networks - not just with mainframes and enterprise level software. While doing this, you have to resist the temptation to promise that what you sell will definitely be compliant. If you promise, you are accepting liability for a manufacturer's current and future year 2000 compliance, and that would be unwise without the best technical and commercial advice. The best thing is to ask suppliers for their compliance information and point it out to customers.
Quite a few corporate IT directors are refusing to worry about PCs. All the old boxes will have been replaced, they predict, and all the new ones will be fine. Buying new PCs always sounds like a very agreeable policy, but will all the kit that was bought before the end of 1996 really be gone?
The older the asset, the less likely it is to be properly managed. How much does the IT department know about all those dBase applications, departmental spreadsheets, confidential personnel databases, undocumented Excel macros and chunks of locally developed Visual Basic that technically expert users have accumulated over the years and use to run their day-to-day business?
If we can get into this kind of pragmatic discussion, we can give useful advice to customers and open up service opportunities very different from the commonly held perception of silver-haired Cobol programmers sifting code. The serious, professional, unsensational approach works best.
Eventually, our customers ask us what they should do. Then we can present the extensive Dateproof2000 services portfolio and make sure customers will be up and running as usual on that first Monday morning back in the office, 3/1/00.
Eric Roth is manager of market intelligence at Tplc
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