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Vol. 24, No. 14 Feb. 10, 1999

Countdown to 2000: Columbia's Y2K Team Looks Ahead


Columbia is in safe hands as David Newman and his Y2K team work to ensure a smooth and sensible transition into the new millennium. Preparing the University's computer systems to comply with a four-digit year date, it appears they will accomplish the goal well in advance of the New Year.

As director for the "Year 2000 Project," Newman is "cautiously optimistic" and believes Columbia will function well on Jan. 1, 2000.

"The University's goal is to have everything done by the end of June and have the rest of the year to work on tweaking it," he said. "We have no major worries that we're not going to make it."

In fact, Newman has been attending Ivy conferences nearly every other month and says Columbia is in a good place compared to others.

"We're probably being more proactive than average," he said. "We have the same concerns, but we're really trying to act on them. In some cases, others haven't decided yet what to do." Columbia has been working on the effort in some capacity since 1996. Newman has headed the project for more than four months with a 10-person team.

The most critical systems at Columbia are getting the most specialized and primary attention. These core areas include: The central systems (including AIS, AcIS and telecommunications) and equipment ranging from elevators to highly sophisticated devices in the research labs. Renovation of the critical systems is just about complete and contingency plans are being developed to ensure they are secure.

"Critical facilities and infrastructure, including telecom, will be on backup generators," Newman said.

Testing is one of the most important features of the project. Only testing will indicate if the problem has been correctly identified and renovated.

"What we've found so far from our testing is encouraging," Newman said. Minor problems have occurred as a result of some trial runs which Newman believes is a positive sign that the tests are being conducted correctly. He explained, "It's more reassuring than having no problems at all."

As for Columbia's many offices and departments, project coordinators have already begun assessing the specific needs of the less technologically-dependent areas. In some cases, preparation will include ordering extra office supplies in the event deliveries are delayed. Newman's philosophy is universal for the entire campus, "We want to maintain continuity," he said.

The real impact on day-to-day activity will not extraordinary, Newman believes. "To some extent," he said, "there's a tolerance level for stuff not being right." Citing computer crashes and other everyday technological imperfections, he believes the effects of Y2K may be only as inconvenient as problems the University community is already used to.

Joining Columbia from MetLife, Newman has assumed a job which, in many ways, will preserve the function of an institution that's been operating continuously for nearly 250 years. This fact applies tremendous pressure, but Newman remains collected and undaunted.

"It's not accidental that I wound up doing this," he explained, "I happen to enjoy a certain level of pressure." He does not feel this is a race against the clock. Rather he uses the millennium like a lighthouse he can see from any angle. "It really organizes your mind to have an inflexible deadline."

It is possible that the experience may be a positive one for Columbia, Newman said. As a result of almost four years of preparation, he said, "We'll have new inventories and contingency plans. Those things are certainly beneficial in the long term."

As for New Year's eve, Newman advises everyone to "Turn off your computer!" The stroke of midnight is the moment when computers should be powered down to let the proverbial plague pass. Still, he maintains, "I don't think the world's going to end." More information on the Year 2000 Project at Columbia may be found online at Click on "computing-e mail-Y2K" and then go into the "Year 2000 Tool Kit."