Feature Article
Post Y2K - My Comments

February 1, 2000
By Scott Lewis

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.
- R.E.M.

I really wanted to avoid commenting on the post Y2K issue. However, I can’t help but read and hear other people’s opinions and see a lot of misunderstanding still exists. So here is mine.

I read one comment that said the reason nothing happened is because of all the work that has been done during the last few year to prevent anything from happening. Hog-wash! Nothing happened because nothing would have happened. Water, electric, phones, etc. are hardware based. Computers may control hardware, but they have engineered fail-safes built into them.

Computers are hardware too. But they are controlled by software. Y2K was, and is, a software problem. Life "threatening" systems were never in serious jeopardy from Y2K, and were solved long before the media created all the hype. It has been much more hype than reality. In case anyone reading this thinks it is easy to have 20/20 hindsight, I direct you to read my column from November 1999. I clearly mock the Y2K dilemma, so save your comments about why I am writing this after it happened.

If it were ever added up, I bet over 95% of all Y2K preparation was done for one reason... Money! Companies spent a fortune updating their computer systems (software). They did this to ensure they would not receive a payment on January 12, 2000, but "their system" records the payment as having been received January 12, 1900. Then "their system" proceeds to send out an overdue bill, or worse a cancellation notice. God forbid.

Most hardware-based systems would have kept working fine. However, the true Y2K "bug" is happening. I wonder how many people do get an overdue bill in error. Probably a lot. I bet customer calls over billing questions spike in January and February of 2000 for lots of companies. The Phone Company will like that.

From a customer standpoint, which would you like to due business with 1) a company that prepared for something they themselves were too short sited to prevent in the first place, or 2) a company that sends you three consecutive overdue statements for doing nothing.

Customer service is an important part of business. My company is very customer service oriented. Much more so than others its size partly because it is "owned" by its customers. It is a member based company that was founded for members, by members. We pride ourselves heavily on customer service. It is one of our best values to the customer.

That is why we spent over 5 years updating 30 and 40 year old computer systems that have been reliably providing this service. We don’t want our customers to leave us for another company just because they were more prepared than we were. By the way... as a member owned company, when the member leaves he/she gets his/her "share" in the company back. In essence, this is the "profit" on his payments for service over his time with the company. This is a powerful incentive to keep customers.

So Y2K did not create Armageddon. Planes didn’t fall out of the sky. But I have heard reports of the following happening (but cannot confirm them, so don’t shoot the messenger) in direct response to Y2K:

  • A gas station could not accept credit cards and required cash for purchases. They ended up selling very little gas until they fixed the problem.
  • Some ATM machines didn’t work.
  • I heard of only one small area of a brownout of electricity.
  • A guy was charged $91,000 for his late movie. (I assume he was not returning the original "Gone With The Wind.")
  • Cable customers in Des Moines had bills due in 1900.
  • Some Earthlink customers started getting all their January 1999 e-mails again. (This is scary because these e-mail, I assume, were thought to be deleted by the users.)
  • Rhode Island police arrested 8 people in Providence for crimes they did not commit.
  • Jimi Hendrix Magazine web site is displaying the year as 3900. (This was true on Jan. 18th when I checked it out myself. I don’t know if it is deliberate.)
  • Hundreds of missile silos launched their missiles wiping out millions upon millions of lives. You did not hear of this because the government controls the media and they have suppressed any word of this from getting out, until now.

O.K., I made that last one up. But the truth is I expect to hear more problems with Y2K during the first few months of 2000, and 99% of them will be money related. Trust me... people make mistakes and if nothing happened it was not just because people prepared for it.

Check your bills carefully.

Until next time.