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Twenty Years of Jobbers
Chapter IX - Year 2000 Operator
A book in progress by Bill Scott
(c) Copr 1998 ScotSystems Inc All Rights Reserved

This chapter is designed to wake you up. The single biggest favor that anybody can do for you at the moment, is to try to make you understand what the Year 2000 may mean for jobbers and C-Store operators and to hopefully help you prepare for what's about to happen.

The Year 2000, will likely bring a catastrophe of monumental proportions, and it will effect every man, woman, child, business, organization, and government in the world. At the same time, the Year 2000 is probably the most widely ignored coming event in the history of mankind. Why? Because the problem is virtually beyond the comprehension of the average person, the government does not want to have a panic on its hands, and there are misguided businesses and individuals out there that find it convenient to keep you in the dark.

"Why in the world would anybody want to do that," you asks yourself? Well before we try to answer that question, let's talk about what the problem is really all about. The obvious definition is that computers have been using six digit dates since the time of punched cards when Jan. 1, 1960 would be represented as 010160 or 600101. That's simple, but that's not your real problem.

Another way that's been used to describe the problem is this way. If the date Jan 1, 1998 is represented as 980101 and you were born on Jan 1, 1967, then 98 - 67 tells us you are approximately 31 years old - give or take a year. If the computer recognizes the date 000101 as Jan. 1, 1900 instead of Jan. 1, 2000 (which will generally be the case), then you would become 1900-1967 or -67 years old. Since date computations generally ignore the negative sign of the number, you might become 67 years old on Jan 1, 2000 when you will actually be 2000-1967= 33 years old.

It's easy to extrapolate how interest calculations and all sorts of date sensitive computer processes might start generating errors if this were to occur isn't it? [This has already happened. There was a story in the news recently where a 98 year old woman received an invitation to attend kindergarten classes. Their computer reported her as reaching her 2nd birthday.] But, that's still not your real problem.

Then, what is your real problem?!? Well I can tell you all about date sensitive software, embedded controllers, job security, etc., etc, and we will get to that. But first let's talk about what may happen to you and your business when the apple hits the bottom of the pole in NY City on Jan. 1, 2000.

Recent data I have received has convinced me that less than 22% of manufacturers and vendors have an answer for their Year 2000 problems. These are your vendors and your suppliers. People and organizations that hold the key to your success or failure in the business of selling gas and groceries.

The biggest mistake most of us make is assuming that this problem will just go away. The Y2K problem is real, and there is no fix. Convenience store operators and jobbers should take special note of this issue because your group has a potential to benefit from it or to suffer its consequences. Your specific fate will be determined by your assumptions and actions from this date forward. Yes, I said "assumptions". Because far too many of you assume that the problem is out of your hands or worse, that there is no problem!

"What can I do," you ask? "I'm no computer expert! I don't even understand computers!"

Well there are plenty of things you can do, but most of you have plans to do nothing and that is scary. From a business person's viewpoint, you are correct in assuming that you can have no direct impact on the problem itself. That is in the hands of the government and the computer experts. And as a whole, they ain't doing so good. It's up to you to protect your customers, your employees maybe even your vendors. So let's talk about what you, as a retail convenience store operator or an oil jobber CAN do to get prepared for January 1, 2000.

The Year 2000 event is much like a hurricane that is approaching your community. We know the approximate time that it will arrive, and we have at least some period of time to prepare ourselves for its arrival. Some of you are feeling the winds already, some will sustain minor damages and others will be wiped off the face of the map.

So let's talk about the possible events that may occur so that you can develop a plan to be prepared for it:

The Year 2000 may come early
Plan on getting financing for future projects ASAP. Lenders will begin requiring proof of Year 2000 compliance before making or renewing existing bank loans. This could delay or eliminate your chances of acquiring needed funds for planned projects. 

Your bank may have to close its doors
In the first week of February, the GAO reported that as many as 700-800 major banks may have to shut their doors because of Y2K problems. How will this effect your local bank? - the place where you keep your money? I won't go so far as to say you might lose your deposits forever, but you could have limited access to your money for an indeterminate period. Are you prepared to keep your business going without cash? For how long? 

Your store shelves and fuel tanks may be bare
Is your grocery supplier and your fuel supplier Year 2000 ready? Have you asked them? What will you ask them? Will they understand your question? What will you say when your customers ask you? What should you say? The odds are 5 to 1 against you that your grocery suppliers have a plan in place to address their Y2K predicament. You see, they don't understand it either. Your order might be canceled because their computer may think you haven't paid your bill since December of 1899. "No problem," you say. "I'll just call them and straighten it out!" You and 3,000 other customers will be calling at the same time. Major fuel suppliers may be better off, maybe not. We have no way of knowing that, because 78% of them aren't talking. Local jobbers may be in the worst position to attain Y2K compliance. Operating primarily off of personal computers, most small fuel jobbers don't have the resources to fix their problems. Many of their software suppliers have lost their developers and don't have the resources to fix their software.

You may be without electrical power for a time
The electrical power companies are in real trouble. But most have warned to expect some interruptions in electrical services. Can you pump gas or ring up sales during power outages? How about the memories on your equipment? How will you function with intermittent power problems? How about sustained power outages of days or even weeks? 

You may be sued by customers and vendors!
Did you know that if you fail to take action you just be liable for the inconveniences of others caused by your trading partner's Year 2000 problems? If you can't collect your money, how will you pay your bills, your employees, your bankers? Will you be able to collect your money? Do you know that for sure? As you read this, lawyers are attending Year 2000 litigation seminars all over the world. It's estimated that our court systems will be clogged with Year 2000 litigation throughout the next decade. Who'll get the lion's share of these settlements? Do I have to tell you?

Is your computer Year 2000 Ready?
I only know of two computer hardware systems that are. Everybody else is still working on the problem! I recently spoke at a meeting where one attendee reported that his son was part of a 100 man team to solve a major vendor's Year 2000 problems and there's no end in sight for them. If the company that sold you your computer won't tell you in writing that your system will continue to function normally after 1/1/2000, look out! It probably won't.

The general myth being accepted around the world is that only mainframe systems are susceptible to this terrible bug. The fact is that mainframes with "legacy software" (software developed in the 60's, 70's and 80's) that cannot be updated will most certainly die. The fact is that most all software developed in that time-frame will perish. The type of computer hardware has little to do with this problem. If someone is still operating on hardware that was purchased prior to 1990, they may have no recourse but to replace their old computers with new equipment.

Personal computers, including the newer Pentiums are not immune to the Year 2000 bug. The fact is that 80% to 90% of the world's computers will malfunction before, during and after the turn of the century. Computer systems that are dependent on multiple vendors for networks and software are especially vulnerable. In order to make these systems Y2K compliant, you will have to deal with as many as nine different vendors to keep one computer working. And each one of those vendors will be dealing with thousands of others vendors and customers when you need their help. The prognosis is pitiful. It's only reasonable to assume that a computer system that is dependent on the least number of vendors is far more likely to keep working than those that require multiple vendors for compliance.

Will you be prepared for the social chaos?
Of all the enterprises that will be affected the most by the Year 2000 problem, the federal government is by far the most vulnerable. Their systems are in shambles. Mostly controlled by those so-called "legacy systems", the software for these computers was written in the stone age by individuals who have long since retired, died, or moved into the private sector. With them, the human readable computer code has been destroyed or misplaced as well. The government has been running on ancient (non-modifiable) computer software for eons. The IRS is running on systems that were obsolete in the mid to late 1980s. The federal government has no alternative but to dismantle the IRS and search for alternative methods to collect the nation's taxes. You will be expected to become even more of a tax collecting agency for the federal government than you already are. As your bookkeeping requirements become more demanding, your costs will escalate as well.

State governments, because of their size, are only slightly better off. Who will make the welfare payments? The food stamp distribution? Who will manage the thousands upon thousands of government programs that many of our citizens have learned to rely on as their way of life? Who will feed them, keep them warm and see to their basic needs? How will this group of people react to the mere inconvenience of not getting their government check on time? How will they react to the end of the welfare state?

Have you taken an inventory of your susceptible equipment?
This above all, is the best single piece of advice that anyone can give you between now and December 31, 1999. Take an inventory of every piece of equipment that you own that operates off of electricity. Obvious targets such as cash registers, computers and pump controllers are easy. Here are a few you may not have considered: 

    Telephone equipment
    Trucks and vehicles
    Electrical lighting systems
    Walk-in coolers
    Hand-held computers
    Electric doors
    Air conditioning and heating systems (especially the thermostat controls)
    Fryers and cooking equipment
    Tank monitoring equipment
    Electronic time clocks
    ATM machines
    Computer software programs on all mainframes and personal computers

These are but a few examples of equipment that might be overlooked. Make a detailed list of each one of these items including, date of purchase, manufacturer, model and serial number and any upgrades that have been added to the equipment that you are aware of. Prepare a letter to each manufacturer, stating the information collected above and demand that they respond within a two week time-frame as to any Year 2000 related problems you might expect in using this equipment before, during and after January 1, 2000. The probability is high that you will hear back from only a small percentage of those queried. Follow up within two weeks with a certified letter emphasizing the seriousness of your request. Again, don't expect a high percentage of replies to this second inquiry.

Beware of anyone who tells you that their equipment or software is compliant but refuses to put it in writing. I know for a fact that there is software and equipment being peddled today that is not Year 2000 compliant. Above all, don't trust what a salesman tells you. Most salespeople don't understand the equipment and software that they are selling, much less the internal workings of their products.

What's the purpose of this exercise? When you are sued due to the failure of a piece of equipment you acquired from a third party, you will need to prove that you made every effort possible to inquire as to the nature of any Year 2000 problems that piece of equipment might cause. It's an inexpensive step that might save you big bucks when the time comes for your day in court. Above all, speak to your attorney about this today! I will be happy to direct you or anyone representing you to sources of additional information on this issue. 

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