© 1999 Michael S. Hyatt

For months now we have been hearing from organizations that Y2K is all but solved. They are “making good progress,” “90 percent compliant,” and “on track to finish by Jan. 1.” Their messages all have one simple objective: to keep you from doing anything about Y2K. No need to make preparations. No need to stockpile. And, most importantly, no need to take your money out of the bank or the stock market.

Sadly, the vast majority of Americans have bought the party line “hook, line, and sinker.” And yet they have done so — not based on the available facts — but solely on the vague assurances of government bureaucrats and corporate executives. As I wrote yesterday in The Y2K 100-day Countdown, “the effect of this propaganda — and that’s precisely what it is — is apathy on the part of the general public and confusion on the part of the Y2K aware.”

In the event that you or your loved ones are finding yourselves confused by what you are now hearing about Y2K, I want to offer a brief “Y2K translation dictionary.” Hopefully, this will provide you with a quick reference, so that you can separate what they say from what they mean.

1. It’s a Very BIG Problem

When they say, “We’re spending millions of dollars” and “We have hundreds of people working on it,” what they really mean is “This is a very BIG problem.” Make no mistake about it. Y2K is not a hoax. Governments and corporations around the world are not committing these kinds of enormous resources to a non-existent problem. They are continuing to raise budgets and extend deadlines because Y2K projects are turning out to be more complex and more difficult to solve than originally thought.

2. We’re STILL Not Done

When they say, “We’re making good progress,” “We’re 90 percent of the way there,” and “We’re on track to finish by Jan. 1,” what they really mean is “We are still not done.” Do you remember when they promised us that they would be done by Dec. 31, 1998, “in order to allow a solid year for testing”? Well, guess what? Most of them missed the deadline. Only four federal agencies claimed to meet the deadline, and three of these turned out to be bogus. Worse, as of June 21, 1999, only 8 percent of large companies had actually completed the work.

And when you remember that, according to Standish Group International, 73 percent of all software development projects are either late or abandoned altogether, the above statements become all but meaningless. Especially in the absence of third-party verification. The fact is, organizations that are still telling us they are “making good progress,” should have been done long ago. But with 99 days remaining before the century rollover, they are still not finished — even with the mission critical work.

I was recently on a Y2K panel discussion with several infrastructure providers. One particular utility representative was going on and on about how hard they have been working and punctuating his report with assurances that his organization was on track to be done by the end of the year. After a few minutes of this, I’d had enough. I finally blurted out, “So to cut to the chase, Mr. So-and-so, what you are telling us is that you still aren’t done. Is that correct?” Dead silence. After a second or two, he finally admitted, “Yes, I guess that’s what I’m saying.”

3. We Sure HOPE We’re Y2K-Ready

When they say, “We are Y2K-ready,” what they really mean is “We sure hope we are Y2K-ready.” Let’s face it: millions of remediated systems are being put back into production without adequate testing. Worse, end-to-end testing is virtually non-existent. Never before have so many systems been simultaneously changed on such a massive scale. Even without the ubiquitous presence of Murphy, this is fertile ground for glitches, snafus, and outright failures.

The recent public failure of the Social Security Administration (SSA) should make us forever take “Y2K ready” with a grain of salt. Even though President Clinton had publicly announced that this agency was compliant as of Dec. 28, 1998, and even though it has become the de facto model for proactive Y2K remediation, it still managed to send out 32,000 errant letters, announcing to those beneficiaries that certain benefits would expire on (you guessed it) Jan. 1, 1900. While the SSA was quick to downplay the glitch and reassure the country that the really important systems were, in fact, ready, it still made many of us wonder, how do you ever really know? The truth is that you don’t. And that’s precisely why each of us needs to continue to prepare — just in case.

4. We’ll Find SOMEONE ELSE to Blame

When they say, “We are ready but we are concerned about others,” what they really mean is “If something does go wrong, we’ll find someone else to blame.” Whether it is their trading partners, small businesses, local governments and municipalities, fear-mongering Y2K alarmists (like me), or the ever-gullible and irrational public (like you), the finger-pointing has already begun. It is a way of taking our collective focus off the fact that much of the federal government and most of the world’s largest companies are still not done, despite the fact that they have had the most resources to throw at the problem.

Don’t be fooled by this “red herring.” If an organization is truly finished with its Y2K work and has been certified as such by an independent, third-party organization, fine. Then maybe they can legitimately be concerned about what others are or are not doing. But until then, they need to follow the advice your parents used to give you when you were growing up: “Forget about them. Their behavior is not your concern. Managing your own behavior is a full-time responsibility.”


It’s only going to get more confusing between now and Y2K. But it will be less confusing if you can separate what they say from what they mean. In the age of “spin control,” they are rarely the same. Most importantly, keep making contingency plans. If it’s smart for governments and businesses to do so — and it is — it is equally smart for you and your family. As the old saying goes, “It’s better to have it and not need it, then need it and not have it.”

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