For the last two years, the phrase "Y2K-ready"
may have been the most overused in world business circles. Now, it may have been replaced
with "just in case" -- as in, "We're ready for the change of the
millenium, but just in case ..."
According to the U.S. Commerce Department, American
industry has already spent an estimated $114 billion on preparation for the turn of the
millenium. But most businesses in this technology-interrelated world confessed that just
in case there is a problem they couldn't, or didn't, anticipate, offices will be
extraordinarily fully staffed for a Jan. 1 weekend.
Although cable programmers, suppliers and related vendors
are among those wrapping up months of computer debugging and retrofits, most companies
said they will spend the extra money to heavily staff a period normally worked by a
skeleton staff of new hires or others lacking in seniority.
Most continued to say it isn't computer jitters
causing the human-resources glut -- it's the fear of the human factor.
For instance, police and fire departments in many Southern
California cities will be on "soft tactical alert" through the weekend, in
readiness for problems caused by drunken revelers armed with guns.
But since those hooligans have been known to hurt
infrastructure -- such as shooting out power amplifiers and other pole-mounted hardware --
law enforcement has advised businesses of the possible hazards, too.
In truth, the source of fear for most businesses is the
public power grid.
"It's more likely that an event caused by a
drunken driver, or a bad storm, will cause power problems than Y2K. There may be shutdowns
that have nothing to do with Y2K," said Patty Hemphill, director of product delivery
and Y2K compliance for CSG Systems International Inc. "We feel we're ready, but
like most companies of any consequence, we've staffed up in anticipation of any
Indeed, there will be workers of every ilk grumbling about
their canceled vacations and sitting at the ready Dec. 31, while managers hope grumbling
will be their only activity.
Even cable operators that consider themselves
24-hour-per-day, seven-day-per-week businesses will have extra managers on site or with
beepers, instructed not to stray too far from headquarters.
AT&T Broadband & Internet Services will have
staffing levels 10 percent to 25 percent higher than comparable year-end holiday periods.
That translates to 1,000 extra workers -- mostly systems engineers, operations workers and
managers -- on hand. Further, another 250 will be on call with instructions not to stray
anywhere more than a half-hour from their work sites.
Work sites will tune into a scrambled programming feed,
coordinated through the corporate office in Colorado, which will monitor news beginning
with the turn of the new year in Hong Kong. Technical workers will be advised of any
problems that surface there so they can get an early jump on fixes.
Many local system executives stressed that they don't
expect any significant problems, but they are preparing just in case.
For instance, Daniels Cablevision Inc. in Carlsbad, Calif.,
has rented a block of rooms in a nearby hotel. If a time-consuming fix arises, or there
are other problems, workers know they will have a nearby place to go for a few winks until
the crisis passes.
Perhaps the most critical technology in local offices
controls subscriber management. The industry's largest software designers in that
field will be burning the millenium midnight oil, too.
Officials at CSG -- which handles billing for AT&T
Broadband, as well as other major operators -- indicated that they are more concerned
about man-made problems than computer-borne ones.
"If everyone lifts the handset at midnight to see if
they still have phone service, that will cause more problems then computers will,"
Hemphill said. "Don't call unless you're having a problem."
CSG notified workers earlier this year that it was
restricting vacations or other time off in both December and January in order to prepare
for crossover and clean-up. Each department's preparing a list of who will be on,
off, and on-call, with primary, secondary and beeper numbers for the latter.
CSG perceives no weakness in the "cascade" --
that is, problems resulting from services to CSG that, in turn, affect its systems.
"But we depend a lot on third parties. We've gotten paperwork from all of them,
but there's always an outside chance," Hemphill said.
Convergys Corp.'s plans for its headquarters in
Cincinnati and its call centers such as its facility in Orlando, Fla., will also be a boon
to the local hospitality industry. The information-systems company has arranged catering
and booked rooms "just in case."
In addition to the cable industry, Convergys handles
accounts for the cellular and banking industries. According to vice president of
internal-support services Dave Moorman, contingency staffing will be extensive.
A total of 400 extra staff members will be on board at the
various sites, compared with the number during a normal holiday. Another 450 will be on
call from noon Friday, Dec. 31, until Monday, Jan. 2.
The beeper-bound are instructed to remain within one
hour's travel time of their work sites. And that travel time does not include planes.
Because of the possibility of glitches in air-travel-control systems, Convergys has
instructed its personnel to be at any out-of-town contingency work sites no later than
midnight, Dec. 29. Responsibility for any travel misadventure that occurs during the
blackout will remain with the employee.
Another 200 workers will conduct precautionary tests from
their home terminals, contacting the mainframe through the night, Moorman said. And all of
this extra tasking has been scheduled so that it doesn't interfere with Convergys
vendors that may be doing some of the same things, he added.
"Even if all hell breaks loose, we'll still be
ready," he said.
Contingency does not come cheap. Convergys has notified
workers that they will earn bonuses of $500 to $1,000 for the extra effort, depending on
the ease of the rollover. Provisions for extra rewards have been made in the case of
The company's physical plant has also been reviewed
for safety to ensure that elevators and other services work.
Another major information-services vendor, DST Innovis Inc.
(formerly CableData Inc.), will look east throughout the last day of the decade.
The Pacific Rim will go through the millennial transition
first and, "Fortunately for us, every one of our products is in use in the
region," director of quality assurance Kel Dickenson said.
"We'll be proactively calling them. Even if
it's nothing but good news, we want to hear it," he said. But overall, the
company will schedule normal holiday staffing, with key personnel linked to a pager-based
Most employees live within a 30-minute radius. And since
the company is based near Sacramento, Calif., the worst weather emergency workers could
face is fog.
Contingency has extended to utility services. DST Innovis
has installed independent generators at its two buildings. Further, the company has backup
plans should its 800 number or long-distance systems fail.
Content providers will beef up, too, at levels varying
according to the type of programming.
For instance, Home Box Office will add about 20 people to
its normal holiday staffing levels. They will serve mostly at the premium service's
uplink facility on Long Island, N.Y., spokesman Chris Donlay said. However, a few will
have to fight their way through the revelers in Times Square to stand by at the
service's headquarters there.
A handful of others are on call in case something goes
wrong. Donnelly himself will have to roll in if there are problems to be addressed to the
With other programmers, the issue is the press. Normally,
MSNBC's news operation is live until 11 p.m., and it then moves into taped content.
But the end of this year will test the endurance of the staff and anchor Brian Williams.
The staffing level is described as "high news
alert," according to spokeswoman Cameron Blanchard. Vacations were denied between
Christmas and New Year's Day. Live programming will begin 5 a.m. Dec. 31 and continue
into Jan. 2. "The potential enormity of the situation demands that all hands be on
deck," she said.
Williams will host live programming from 9 p.m. Dec. 31
through 1 a.m. Jan. 1. He will be back on the air when people wake up Jan. 1 to inform
them of any glitches that have taken place during the night. Then a show focusing on the
reopening of overseas stock markets will begin at 9 p.m. Jan. 1.
"We'll be here to watch the ball drop [in Times
Square]," Fox News Channel senior producer Thom Bird said. Workers were notified at
midyear to cancel any vacation plans for the week before and after Jan. 1.
The news operation will begin its coverage at 6 a.m. from a
remote atoll in the Pacific and follow the advent of 2000 as it moves through the time
But it appears as if FNC is confident that all will be
well: It has commissioned an animation -- a "Y2K Bug" that will buzz the TV
screen, light on the surface and stick its tongue out at viewers -- Bird said, laughing.
The gag will be shelved if the news is centered on major
catastrophes. If not, the humor will be centered on man-on-the-street interviews by
morning-show anchor Steve Doocy.
If the predictions are correct and computer compliance
checks out, extra staffers will be dismissed beginning at 4 a.m., Bird said.
Managers are hopeful that contingency staffers will have
nothing to do but eat elaborate catered-in feasts and watch year-end special programming.