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Countdown to year 2000

Lorna McDaniel

The county’s information systems department is racing the clock to comply with computer upgrades for the new millennium.

“We will meet our deadline with the commissioners’ help,” said Karen Ziemer, a county programmer analysts.

The department will be asking the commission Thursday for an estimated $200,000 to hire a consultant and buy hardware and software to allow for the county’s computers to recognize the year 2000.

“This is the biggest project that we as professionals will be involved with in our careers,” said Ziemer, one of five people working on the project.

An information systems report prepared for the commission says that 30 in-house applications which encompass thousands of programs and files will have to be modified before the end of the millennium.

“Many of these in-house applications are classified as mission critical,” it says.

Ziemer said among those vital applications are county accounts receivable, and payroll.

If the early 1980’s IBM AS400 system doesn’t get an application update, it will not be able to handle year 2000 dates – producing wrong answers or none at all.

Ziemer said the system serves about 250 users and is networked with two county network servers and two other systems including the system which runs the county dispatch that answers 911 calls.

The need for upgrading the system is compounded by being denied additional programming support for the last six years.

The report says because of this, “we are currently two to three man years behind on programming requests.”

Information systems will also need to have several major applications, such as tax rolls which project due dates, comply at the beginning of 1999.

The $200,000 request won’t be the last the county hears of Project Year 2000.

Part of the money will be spent on software to identify the scope of the changes that need to made.

Beyond the $115,000 the information systems department expects to spend this fiscal year on a programmer analyst consultant, “it looks highly probable we will require additional support in 1998-99,” the report says.

The commission will start at 1 p.m. at the County Administrative Building, 1616 Eighth St., Minden.

Jack Crandall, owner of ACME Computer Guy, said years ago programmers cut corners to save memory and storage on computer systems by designing two-digit dates which can’t recognize the year 2000.

He said the problem will mainly affect older computer mainframes of big business and government.

“Most new hardware and software have already been modified (to recognized the year 2000),” he said. “The average (personal computer user is) not going to notice a thing because the computers are already programmed for this.”

Ziemer said the year 2000 recognition problem extends worldwide, and is not limited to computers.

She said things like elevators and watering systems – anything operating with a timer – will have problems when the clock strikes midnight in 1999.