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ARCHIVED  October 22, 1999

Small business waking up to Y2K

It’s a fractured picture for small businesses in Northern Colorado and nationwide when it comes to Y2K preparedness.

Some companies have assessed their systems and completed repair, others are starting to prepare, and some have taken a “wait and see” approach to the date-related event, now about four months away.

Computer hardware and software systems that track dates using the last two numbers of the year could encounter problems when the rollover to the year 2000 prompts 00 to show up on internal clocks. Some computers will recognize the 00 as 1900 instead of 2000, triggering several other errors and failures within the system.

The federal government set up a task force last February to assess national Y2K readiness; the U.S. Small Business Administration began offering Y2KAction Loans last April; software companies have made software “patches” available free of charge over the Internet; and computer organizations have aggressively marketed their services for Y2K assessment. And yet, industry members say it’s still a mixed bag when it comes to small businesses and Y2K readiness.

“More and more small-business owners are becoming aware of Y2K,´ said Eric Zwetzig, service manager for Computer Brokers in Greeley. “In the second quarter of this year there was a real upsurge [of interest], just recently people have started to get back on track, and now it’s usually the first question out of our clients’ mouths.”

David Wrench, vice president of business banking for KeyBank in Fort Collins, has experienced the exact opposite.

“I haven’t had a lot of questions about it,´ said Wrench, who deals with 450 businesses that fall under the $5 million revenue mark. “None of my customers seem to be that concerned about it.”

For companies and individuals who do have questions about Y2K compliance, answers to those questions abound. Type in “Y2K” on any Internet search engine, and your computer screen will quickly produce page after page of resources.

Locally, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension is offering small businesses a “Conversion 2000: Y2K Jumpstart Kit,” comprised of a self-assessment checklist, contingency-plan instructions and template, and a brochure that lists several tools and workshops available. The kit, which was produced in conjunction with the SBA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Commerce, is free of charge and can be obtained at any Extension Office location.

Local resources

Computer Brokers, a company that manufactures, sells and repairs computers, also acts as a consultant to small-business owners who want to know what they need to do for the change from two- to four-digit computer dates. The problem many small-business owners must grapple with is that if it wasn’t for Y2K, they wouldn’t have to spend money to update software or to replace their machines – money they haven’t budgeted for.

Rick Baker, owner of The Windsor Health Club, lucked out. His total bill for Y2K compliance will be $250 when he buys a new credit-card service machine before the clock strikes midnight Dec. 31, 1999.

“Nothing else has to change too drastically for my operation,´ said Baker, who uses an updated version of QuickBooks to track the club’s 560 members.

But Baker started assessing his programs, to plan ahead for changes, last April. Now that he’s confident that the expenditure will be low, he’s taken a jovial approach to the new millennium and posted signs on weight-lifting equipment with the slogan “Our equipment is Y2K resistant.”

But Baker, according to some statistics, might be in the minority with regard to his early assessment of Y2K risk and the fact that his operation needs little adjustment.

According to a survey conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business, 28 percent of small businesses are not preparing for Y2K changes. As a result, the NFIB predicts “that roughly 850,000 small businesses will not be ready for the year 2000,” according to a federal government press release.

The SBA puts the number at 20 percent to 30 percent of small-business owners nationwide who have not taken steps to find out if their computer systems are Y2K-compliant. And in light of the fact that the SBA has awarded only 41 of their Y2KAction Loans for small businesses nationwide, that isn’t hard to believe.

In addition to training and counseling for Y2K-related needs, the SBA offers loans for Y2K remediation projects. The loans, for as much as $750,000, can be used for any Y2K-related expense. Out of the 41 loans awarded, the administration has seen no common thread among the companies that have applied.

“Almost every single company [that’s applied] has been a different kind of business, from a different place, and using a different bank,´ said Mike Stamler, spokesman for the SBA. To date, the SBA has offered loans as small as $14,000 and as high as $750,000, but the association would not release names of the recipients. The loans are available through Dec. 31, 2000.

Heads buried in the sand?

Unlike many industry members, Zwetzig does not believe that small-business owners are in denial about the potential consequences of Y2K. Some companies just need more coercing than others when it comes to Y2K preparation, he said.

“I’ve run into a few small-business owners who wanted to wait until the last minute, and run on what they’ve got through 2000,” he said.

The problem with this approach, says Zwetzig and other industry members, is that companies could not only suffer from system failures but also could lose valuable information when internal clocks try to turn over to 2000.

“You risk corrupting the information you have on hand,” he explained.

John Koskinen, chair of the President’s Council on Year 2000 Conversion, expressed another concern for companies that don’t prepare for the millennium change.

“The real concerns now are businesses and governments that are either taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach, got a late start in fixing their systems, or are projecting late-year completion dates for remaining Y2K work,” he said in an Aug. 5 press release. “These organizations are placing themselves at risk of experiencing Y2K-related failures, which only increases the need for having good contingency plans in place on January 1.”

Are you ready?

One quick way to assess whether your system is Y2K-compliant is to run a hardware test on your machine. These tests, which can be obtained over the Internet or through computer consultants, will tell you which components – if any – need to be updated or replaced. Some of the tests are free of charge. The test used by Computer Brokers is made by EE Computers, a Nebraska-based company that began writing hardware tests for the millennium in 1988. Inserting a floppy disk into a machine activates the test, which usually takes about five minutes.

In addition to assessing systems, companies must remember to check with suppliers and business partners to make sure that they have also updated or replaced systems for Y2K compliance.

Some computer systems require software updates, which can be obtained by visiting manufacturer Web sites. Some manufacturers have provided their customers with “software patches” that can be downloaded from the Internet and used to protect the system from Y2K bugs for the life of the product.

Aside from using the Y2K-compliance test on machines, a rule of thumb shared among many computer consultants is that a machine made before 1997 will need to be updated or replaced. “A few before that year make it, and a few don’t,” Zwetzig said.

It would appear that the frenzy over Y2K is by no means pandemic. Some companies have been planning and reconfiguring for years. Others are just starting to think about how the change from two-digit to four-digit recognition will affect their computer system’s ability to process information.

Similarly, there are some people out there stockpiling food, water, cash and any other necessity they’re afraid they won’t be able to find when the clock strikes midnight on the last night of 1999. While others’ only thought concerning Jan. 1, 2000 is which New Year’s Eve party to attend.

Aside from the constraints of limited financial resources, there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to why some companies have prepared and others have not, or why some people are panicked and others are not.

But, one thing is certain, the millennium is coming, and plenty is at stake.

Visit the following Web sites:

” President’s Council on Year 2000 Conversion, visit www.y2K.gov or call the Council’s free information line at 1-888-872-4925.

” SBA, visit www.sba.gov/news/ or call 202-205-6740Y2K Jumpstart Kit, visit http://y2khelp.nist.gov or call 800-Y2K-7557.

” CSU Y2K Materials, visit www.colostate.edu/depts/CoopExt and view the list of Y2K-related articles on-line.

It’s a fractured picture for small businesses in Northern Colorado and nationwide when it comes to Y2K preparedness.

Some companies have assessed their systems and completed repair, others are starting to prepare, and some have taken a “wait and see” approach to the date-related event, now about four months away.

Computer hardware and software systems that track dates using the last two numbers of the year could encounter problems when the rollover to the year 2000 prompts 00 to show up on internal clocks. Some computers will recognize the 00 as 1900 instead of 2000, triggering several other errors and failures within…

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