Will Cable Operators Survive the Y2K Challenge

Publish date:
Updated on

Welcome to the year 2000. You are the CEO of a cable
operation. It is 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2000. Heading home from a New Year's Eve party,
you suddenly receive several urgent pages.

One of your call centers is without power, and its backup
generator failed to start. Another center is unable to handle the call volume. Evidently,
your automatic-switching equipment has failed to reroute the call overflow.

A myriad of complaints have been flooding in for the past
hour: A popular sports channel has stopped broadcasting, children are watching previously
blocked channels, ad-insertion equipment is malfunctioning and
emergency-alert-broadcasting systems are not working in some areas.

You decide that you better take care of this situation from
your office. However, when you arrive, you discover that the automatic lights are on and
your alarm system is blaring. Once inside the building, you can only shut off the alarm by
disconnecting it. You have to take the stairs up to your second-story office because the
elevator is not responding.

This is more than just a bad day: It's evidence that
you should have tested more thoroughly with your vendors.


The extent of business interruption that your cable
operation could experience will likely come in stages, rather than as a total freeze-up of
your systems. Maybe you already experienced an interruption in pay-per-view and
impulse-PPV capability Dec. 31, because you had addressable controllers that could not
roll over to years beyond 1998.

Your scheduling and accounting processes spanning 180 days
will be the next systems affected. Some satellite receivers may lose signals Aug. 22,
1999, because of the Global Positioning System's end-of-week rollover. On Sept. 9,
1999, some of your critical customer data may be lost. If you are running an older system
manager, the maximum number of PPV events that you can load will be reached by the end of
November -- or this could happen in October, if you load PPV one month in advance.

Some cable-system vendors are saying that they may not be
able to accommodate your upgrade needs in time for Jan. 1, 2000, if you haven't
scheduled them before March 31. It is uncertain whether cable set-top-box vendors will be
able to replace all noncompliant units in time.

There are more than 10,000 headends nationwide, each
configured with between 160 and 240 telephony and other service components that must

Some cable operators have old systems, custom-built headend
components and addressable equipment, and/or customized customer-premises equipment where
internal technical expertise or vendor support no longer exists. These systems may need to
be replaced in their entirety. Regardless of the situation, none of your vendors will
warrant the error-free operation of its products when used in conjunction with all of your
other hardware, software, data, applications and services.

Most vendors cannot assure you that their new products will
work correctly when used with older products previously purchased from them. What does all
of this mean? Interoperability testing is your responsibility. Enterprises that remain in
operation when the century turns will do so because they have minimized risks by thorough
testing and contingency planning.


You have completed the inventory and assessment phases of
your "Year 2000" program, and you have identified the following mission-critical
components that will require extensive testing efforts:

Cable System Operations:

• Satellite, microwave, I-Net (institutional network)

• Distribution-signaling transmission/reception
hardware and software

• Modems and network-interface devices

• Automated timed programming systems,
program-interruption equipment, insertion equipment and signal-leakage equipment and

• Analog/digital converters

• Telephony switching, routing and management hardware
and software

• Local-origination equipment

• Scramblers and encoders

• Character generators

• PPV automatic-number-identification systems

• Emergency-alert-system equipment and messaging

• Customer-premises addressable set-top equipment or
addressable taps and cable modems

Call-Center Operations:

• PBX (private branch exchange)

• Voice-messaging systems

• Automatic call distribution

• Call-routing hardware and software

• Predictive dialers

Administrative Systems and Operations:

• Billing

• Accounts payable/receivable

• Payroll

• Work-force administration and scheduling

• Human-resources systems

• Financial systems

• Banking, lockbox services

• Power, local/long-distance phone service, HVAC
(heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) and security systems

• Overnight delivery, postal service

• Local-area-network controllers and routers, and
electronic data interexchanges

Bottom line: Any reception, billing or customer-service
problems will be strong motivation for your customers to switch to an alternative service


Cable operators must take sequential steps to repair,
replace and test all interacting components. Some products must be tested soon due to 1999
date problems. Interoperability testing will require coordinating the efforts of internal
staff and multiple vendors of application software, computer hardware, system software and
utilities, embedded systems, facilities and service providers.

Hiring an experienced millennium consultant to facilitate
your testing efforts may be the only way that you can achieve compliance on this large
portfolio of products in time. You can rely on experienced consultants to manage the
following efforts:

• Determine triage and event horizons

• Prioritize tests for mission-critical elements

• Schedule system and integration tests

• Establish an independent test environment

• Facilitate component testing according to vendor
compliance definitions and testing requirements

• Ensure vendor participation in testing and providing
fixes -- in some cases, it may be dangerous to test without vendor guidance.

• Produce test cases and test scripts to simplify and
expedite testing

• Build a vendor database and create Internet ticklers
to alert you when changes are made to vendors' Y2K Web pages

• Expedite independent testing of desktop hardware,
software, applications and data exchanges by utilizing verified tool kits

• Accelerate enterprise testing of network elements,
servers, security and Intranet by applying proven methods

• Prepare compliance checklists for acquired systems

• Assert that new products and systems come with
warranties that adequately cover possible Year 2000 problems

• Plan and test contingencies

• Monitor compliance and communicate progress to
investors, partners, customers, regulatory agencies and employees

• Revamp disaster-recovery procedures and prepare
employees for potential problems


The biggest concern is whether all potential failures are
identified. Inevitably, some date problems will occur, no matter how carefully you comb
through your systems or manage your vendors. There will be long-range recovery costs. It
is estimated that 85 percent of the Year 2000 problems will be fixed by the turn of the
century. The remaining 15 percent will be very costly in terms of damage to your
organization. Therefore, it is a good idea to have contingency plans in place.

Only companies with a realistic understanding of their Year
2000 program's progress can do effective contingency planning. A contingency plan may
consist of anything from reverting to manual systems to outsourcing the function. Whatever
the plan, it takes time to develop, and it requires lead time to test and implement. Your
internal auditor will help you to determine the contingency approach for each critical
component of your Year 2000 program and the trigger date for implementation. Status
reports will monitor compliance progress of mission-critical elements and determine
whether contingency plans should be implemented on the trigger date.


Although it may seem hard to believe, millennium compliance
does have a bright side. The turn of the century will force many enterprises to
standardize their information-technology infrastructures.

This will result in eliminating obsolete systems and
maintaining the correct number of license agreements. So remember, the Year 2000 need not
be a disaster. If your enterprise is still operating when the century turns, it won't
be because the Y2K problem was overblown: It will be the result of prudent planning,
taking control and deploying the right expertise to resolve the problem.

Mary Cladinos is a millennium consultant with Intelligent
Management Solutions Inc.