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Southern Baptist agencies at work to prepare computers for year 2000


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptist Convention agencies currently are testing computer software in an effort to successfully enter the 21st century without serious internal glitches. This includes ongoing reviews from now through the first quarter of 1999 to eliminate potential “Y2K” or “millennial bug” problems.
Generally, people have focused on programs or equipment that may not work on Jan. 1, 2000, said Gerald Shields, director of the information systems department at LifeWay Christian Resources (formerly the Sunday School Board) in Nashville, Tenn.
But a more serious problem may be posed by equipment that only appears to work properly, Shields said. For example, a program that does not comply with Y2K standards might continue to do calculations, for example, but show the next billing invoices are due in 100 years, he said.
“So many calculations are based on the last two digits of the year,” Shields said. “These problems will be harder to find.”
To meet the challenge, LifeWay expects to test all but one of its 200 software applications by Jan. 1, 1999. Its Y2K team has been meeting weekly to review the status of the project, which began a year ago.
The effort concentrates on several key areas:
— The 2,000 PCs and Macintosh computers LifeWay employees use.
— Data center equipment, such as computer file servers and voice mail.
— Software for desktop computers, such as Windows 95, Windows NT and Unix.
— Software that runs vital business functions like payroll, accounts receivable and order processing.
Its self-imposed deadline of Jan. 1, 1999, will be met for all programs except point-of-sale systems for Baptist Book Stores and LifeWay Christian Stores, Shields said.
As another precaution, LifeWay has contacted all software suppliers, asking for a letter certifying that their products are Y2K-compliant — meaning they use a four-digit system that won’t be confused by data reading “2000.”
While Shields is confident the agency’s computers and systems will be fully functional on Jan. 1, 2000, he said some minor problems could surface, despite his team’s best efforts. The reason is that any equipment with a computer chip regulating functions by the calendar could be affected, he explained, ranging from heating and air conditioning systems to elevators, copy machines and VCRs. “We believe nobody will be 100 percent Y2K (-compliant),” he commented.
Mike Carlisle, chief information officer at the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Ga., said software used at the agency is certified by the manufacturer as Y2K-compliant.
However, the staff must perform upgrades, and the information services team is working to ensure the software operates correctly, he said.
“Our first concern is our UNIX platform, which operates our accounting and human resources software,” Carlisle said. “We have the latest version, certified to be Y2K-compliant, and are confident the upgrades will test out well.”
NAMB’s second concern is general office software. The agency utilizes Microsoft products for such daily uses as word processing and spreadsheets.
“We’re depending on Microsoft to make sure their products work,” the information officer said, “and we have a high degree of confidence in Microsoft.”
Additionally, NAMB bought new desktop and lap computers and uses the Windows NT operating system, which is also year 2000-compliant.
Final testing for both layers of software compliance is scheduled for the first three months of 1999, Carlisle said. He added telephone and voice-mail already comply with new dating standards.
However, he said there are two problems outside the agency’s control.
One is outside suppliers; if their systems don’t comply, it may cause NAMB ordering problems. Or, the agency may be able to place orders but experience accounting problems because of suppliers’ billing software, he said.
The other challenge involves technical personnel. “We currently have three openings in our area,” Carlisle. “We’re diligently trying to find people, but Y2K is driving the price up.”
The Annuity Board recently replaced software handling insurance, general ledger and human resources, according to public relations director Thomas Miller Jr.
While vendors have indicated these systems are ready for 2000, the staff is preparing a test plan to ensure operational continuity, he said. The testing will be completed this fall.
Although the board also replaced its retirement processing system in 1996, it was not 2000-compliant. Miller said the vendor has promised to deliver a new release this fall, which will then undergo integrated testing.
In addition, computer hardware has been replaced at the Annuity Board. The old mainframe is gone and all business functions are done on an IBM AS/400, he said.
“Every employee has a networked personal computer and there is not a PC in the building that is more than three years old,” said the public relations director.
“We expect full implementation of our systems will be completed well in advance of any year 2000 business events,” Miller said. “Beyond our own systems, the Annuity Board has requested assurance of year 2000 compliance from our custodian bank, investment managers, vendors and consultants.”
It also will encourage all SBC churches and others who submit contributions electronically to ensure their computer systems comply with Y2K standards.
While the Annuity Board can test its own systems, it cannot take responsibility for customers’ computers, Miller said. “If any of these are not compliant, they could find themselves unable to make contributions to accounts in a timely fashion after Dec. 31, 1999,” he said.
The International Mission Board’s global information systems office also has named a team to deal with the Y2K issue. They are now contacting overseas offices and missionaries to learn what hardware and software they use, said Jack Surma, who directs the effort.
This information is being compiled into a database, he said, which the team will use to determine what complies with new standards and what needs upgrading or changing.
Many software configurations are dependent on others, Surma said. The IMB team is attempting to find out how to make each one compliant with Y2K needs, he said.
To determine what is needed to become compliant, Surma said the team set up testing that will be operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They will be able to simulate the year change in running various applications and seeing if the application works or fails, he said.
The IMB team began its work March 2. Research and testing of products is going so well, according to global systems vice president Jerry Burkett, it expects to complete the Y2K project next spring, well ahead of the original July 1, 1999, target.
As of July 24, the agency had analyzed all of its computer inventory, with the exception of its Macintosh software. Its in-house and PC software and hardware and related computer networking were between 30 percent and 95 percent compliant.
All vendor-provided hardware and software that are not compliant will be replaced or upgraded, Burkett said. The 70 percent of in-house products needing upgrading only require minor changes, he added, which are in progress.
“The smoke has been cleared but much work remains,” he said. “We are pleased to report that our overall Y2K status is very good. Our next challenge is to question every external interface to the IMB that we have no direct control over.”
The key to continued success of this effort is cooperation between the global systems team and IMB offices domestically and worldwide, Burkett said.

Linda Lawson, Lynne Jones, Thomas Miller Jr. and Marty Croll contributed to this story.

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  • Ken Walker