A Y2K FIX crisis?

Dec 01, 1998 10:30 PM  By

If your catalog’s computer system is not yet Y2K-compliant, you may have missed the deadline. With little more than 12 months remaining before the year 2000, many software vendors and consultants expect a mob of businesses-including catalogers-to be racing to beat the deadline, creating a backlog of software installations that may make it impossible for everyone to become Y2K-compliant in time.

According to vendors, installation of Y2K-compliant systems usually takes two to six months, depending on the complexity of the operation and the number of users. Then, after each system is installed, it needs to be road-tested internally, which may take months, to iron out any problems.

Meanwhile, “the dance cards of the major software vendors have already been filled through next summer,” and other vendors’ schedules will soon fill up, says Ernie Schell, president of Southampton, PA-based consultancy Marketing Systems Analysis. “The time to act is now.”

How many catalogers have yet to act is uncertain. According to a July report published by Stamford, CT-based research firm The Gartner Group, 23% of all enterprises worldwide, including governments, had not started any Y2K effort, and more than 80% of these laggards are small businesses.

For his part, Edward Rast, president of San Francisco-based executive search and management consultancy Edward Rast and Co., estimates that “between 20% and 40%” of catalogers are not compliant. If his conjecture is anywhere near correct, it would be physically impossible for software vendors to make all their clients Y2K-compliant.

“At best, there are 10 major software vendors for catalogers,” consultant Schell says, “and besides Smith-Gardner, no one is used to installing more than 20 systems a year. You don’t think there are going to be more than 200 catalogers with a Y2K problem? Do the math.” Moreover, Schell says, those catalogers that want a particular software system may not be able to install it within the next year because there just won’t be enough time.

‘A mad dash’ The so-called Millennium Bug will alight at 12:00 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2000; computer systems that are not Y2K-compliant will read the “00″ in the two-digit date field as “1900″ and will either calculate incorrectly or outright crash.

“There’s going to be a mad dash of catalogers that will scramble to get Y2K-compliant right after this Christmas,” Rast predicts. “Most of the catalogers out there use multiple operating systems-one for the creative, another for phones, and yet another for administrative-and unless you’ve bought or upgraded a new system within the past two years, you are not compliant.”

Smith-Gardner & Associates, developer of the MACS catalog software system, is already seeing an increase in installations slated for next year. Sharon Gardner, vice president of marketing for the Delray Beach, FL-based company, says that it will install 70 new systems in 1999, compared to 50 installations in 1998. What’s more, 20% of its 1998 installations were for catalogers requesting Y2K-compliance.

The smallest catalogers-those with annual sales of less than $1 million-could actually be better off than their larger counterparts, in that they may be able to make do with an off-the-shelf Y2K-compliant software package. And many of the largest catalogers have had the resources to devote members of their MIS departments to modifying their systems for months now. It’s the many mailers that fall in the middle that are most likely to get bitten by the Millennium Bug.

Yet all of the catalogers contacted by Catalog Age claim to have the problem under control (see “Getting ready for 2000,” below). And David Kopp, president/CEO of Montvale, NJ-based Dydacomp Development Corp., developer of the catalog management software Mail Order Manager, says he has already worked with several catalogers. “Our Windows version, the Visual FoxPro, has been Y2K-compliant since May 1996,” Kopp says. “But for our DOS users, we are writing a patch to make it compliant.”

Nonetheless, like Schell and Rast, Kopp expects to hear from plenty of panicking catalogers in the coming months: “I think you’ll see a lot of alarms among catalogers going off beginning in January.” But for many of those catalogers that put off the Y2K issue, January may be too late. N

When contacting mailers about the Millennium Bug, Catalog Age was unable to find one company that hadn’t at least started addressing the Y2K-compliancy issue.

Jeff Campbell, president/founder of $2.5 million Jackson, CA-based cataloger Clean Team, switched to a Y2K-compliant update of Mail Order Manager last August. “Time was definitely an issue,” says Campbell, whose catalog sells cleaning supplies. “I did not want to be looking to get compliant in 1999. I would’ve been worried about unforeseen problems.”

Money was an issue, too, at least in determining how best to address the problem. Installing Mail Order Manager cost Clean Team $1,500; Campbell says updating the previous system would have cost $35,000.

San Luis Obispo, CA-based The Parable Group, which sells Christian-themed gifts and books, began addressing the Millennium Bug 18 months ago, says vice president of operations Tim Blair. The cataloger also decided to update its operating and phone systems at the same time. “We basically killed two birds with one stone. But we won’t be finished testing until the first quarter of 1999.”

Plymouth, MI-based Tonquish Creek, a gift catalog for firefighters and police officers, is also still testing its systems. “I think we’ll be in good shape,” says president/founder Charlie Kehoe, “but our Novell network, which is connected through seven terminals, will have to be patched”-software parlance for upgrading a particular section of computer code.

U.S. Historical Society, a Richmond, VA-based gift cataloger, has yet to physically work on the Millennium Bug problem, but treasurer Joan Davis says the company is switching to a Y2K-compliant system next month. The cataloger wanted to wait until after the holidays, Davis says. “January is probably the best time for us to work on it.”