Surviving Y2K: What did we learn from the biggest tech scare in history?
With teamwork and clearly-stated goals, big transformations can take place — swiftly.
Tony Saldanha is a Fortune 25 executive in the Global Business Services (GBS) and Information Technology area. During a 27-year career at Procter & Gamble, Saldanha ran IT and GBS in every region of the world, helping create a multi-billion dollar best-in-class operation. He currently provides advice to boards and CEOs in Fortune 500 companies on digital transformation, especially on internal business operations.
TONY SALDANHA: Many of our younger folks really don't realize that the year 2000 or Y2K digital transformation was perhaps the biggest digital transformation to date across the world. So here's a little bit of context. Y2K as a programming problem was caused because two digits were allocated to computing related to the year. So 98 instead of 1998 which is perfectly fine until then you added one for next year. So 98 plus one is 99 and then 99 plus one is 100 which was three digits. Suddenly it was not two digits. And so as a result of this programming was actually going to explode. Planes were going to fall out of the sky. Banks were going to go bust. And so this was a real catastrophe. And this is one of the reasons why I consider the organizational changes that happen and how the world came together to successfully drive Y2K conversion as one of the most successful examples that humanity has of digital transformation.
Here's what happened to drive successful resolution of digital transformation during Y2K. Y2K was such a massive challenge that it would take every programmer that wrote their program to go back and change it. So there was no way on earth a central authority was going to coordinate all of the changes that happen. However, there were several things at play that made this possible. One was there was clear understanding even among politicians that really didn't know what Y2K was. There was understanding that this was important and so space was made to give technology organizations the room to go get it done. And that kind of empowerment is absolutely essential when you're faced with a massive change.
The second thing that happened was the empowerment of local teams. So every person, every IT organization whether they work for a massive company or a small mom and pop shop knew that they had to protect their own programs and they did whatever was necessary in order to get that done.
And the third thing was the clarity of the goals. The deadline was very clear. It was going to be December 31, 1999 and you had to get it done or all bad things could potentially happen. And that's really what worked in our favor. The entire world came together to make Y2K successful and it did. There were no major catastrophes. I remember Jan. 1 came around. I was celebrating in Florida with the family. We kept a close eye on TV and all I could see was celebration.
- In terms of programming, the year 2000 was perhaps the biggest digital change to date across the world. The reason for this is because, in the years before, two digits were allocated to computing related to the year. With 2000, three had to be allocated.
- Programmers around the world came together and successfully drove the Y2K conversion. The freedom they were given by politicians, who didn't entirely understand the problem, gave programmers the space they needed to make the changes expediently.
- When goals are clearly stated—in this case, December 31, 1999—people understand that there is a deadline on when they have to be done with their work before bad things happen. As a result of the teamwork operating under a clearly stated goal, there were no major catastrophes when the new year rolled in.
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- Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
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It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.
- Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
- Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
- Where's an El Niño when you need one?
Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.
NOAA expects a busy season
According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.
Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.
What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.
This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.
Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:
- The ocean there is warmer than usual.
- There's reduced vertical wind shear.
- Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
- There have been strong West African monsoons this year.
Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:
ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.
First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.
Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.
Image source: NOAA
Batten down the hatches early
If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.
Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."
Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.
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