The university recently received a passing grade on its efforts to safeguard itself from the year 2000 computer glitch. However, the institution is not in the clear just yet because there may be equipment it doesn't know about.
KPMG, an international business advisory firm, is close to completing an audit of the university's computer systems and electronic device inventory, according to Stephanie Reel, the university's chief information officer.
Representatives of KPMG have spent the past three months inventorying electronic equipment and meeting with spokespersons from all divisions to check on Y2K compliancy efforts.
"Overall the news is very good. A lot of very good work has been done," Reel says. "But as we approach the end of the calendar year it's clear a lot of work still needs to be done."
The Y2K problem originates from the widespread practice of programming computers and microprocessors to recognize only the last two digits of the year and assume that the first two digits are 1 and 9. Thus, if not dealt with, when the year 2000 rolls around, computers will read 00 as a lower figure than 99, a glitch that may cause systems to malfunction, alter existing records of dates and times or--a less likely scenario--cause the device to shut down completely.
The university has spent the past eight years ensuring that no problems do occur when the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31, 1999. The problem, however, is that the university is not aware off all the computer and electronic equipment on its premises, Reel says.
"People sometimes bring in their own equipment, or some devices have just been locked away in a closet and forgotten," Reel says. "So we have to look in all the nooks and crannies and identify where all this equipment is."
The real risk, according to Reel, is with research equipment that has a date-sensitive embedded chip, such as a sophisticated microscope, that might not be checked until it's too late.
Reel advises that anyone unsure that a computer, software or electronic device isn't Y2K compliant should check with the manufacturer. However, anyone not successful contacting the manufacturer can call Reel at 410-516-6700.
"It's better to deal with these problems right now," Reel says. "At the end of the year, resources to deal with these Y2K-related issues are going to be scarce and expensive."