Ready or not . . .

Feb 01, 1999 10:30 PM  By

Sure, you’ve got your hands full ensuring that your internal computer systems are Y2K-compliant, but what about the systems of your suppliers? Can your vendors guarantee that accounts will be paid, that merchandise will be shipped on time, that catalogs will be printed and bound, and that their suppliers are compliant?

“These issues are important to the extent that [the supplier's] business is integrated into a cataloger’s business in some digital fashion, such as EDI or extranets,” says Ernie Schell, president of Marketing Systems Analysis, a Southampton, PA, operations consultancy. If you digitally transmit files to your printer, for instance, chances are the two computer systems are interdependent, leaving you more vulnerable to problems if the printer doesn’t become Y2K-compliant. On the other hand, if a merchandise supplier isn’t compliant, you could face inventory problems, but at least your data will be safe.

To determine whether your vendors are a step ahead of the so-called Millennium Bug, you need to ask them. Schell recommends mailing a questionnaire to printers, prepress houses, merchandise vendors, and other suppliers. Questions could include “Have you identified the suppliers that are critical in your ability to supply us without error or disruption?” and “Have you identified contingency plans for suppliers, systems, products, services, and facilities that are critical to your ability to continue to supply us without error through and beyond the year 2000?” The more closely integrated the supplier’s computer systems are with yours, the more technical your questions should be.

Safety in numbers Last April, Lillian Vernon, a Rye, NY-based cataloger of gifts and home products, sent a mailing to its vendors requesting Y2K action plans, says spokesman David Hochberg. Only half responded to the first mailing, so in January the company mailed a second request to those that didn’t reply the first time. “It comes down to closely monitoring our vendors and responding quickly to any problems,” Hochberg says. “We will drop a vendor if it isn’t compliant.” Luckily, he adds, the company sources products from 33 countries, providing several alternatives for merchandise.

SkyMall, the Phoenix-based cooperative inflight catalog, is conducting a Y2K evaluation of all of its partners, including the catalogers that buy space in its books, printers, phone companies, and airlines. “There are a lot of people to check out,” says president/CEO Robert Worsley. In addition to sending questionnaires to its partners, SkyMall is setting up discussions with its inhouse tech support team and those of its vendors.

As with Lillian Vernon, though, not one supplier is responsible for a large percentage of SkyMall’s business, “so if one company isn’t compliant, only a small piece of our business is in trouble,” Worsley says.