Gearing Up

With the worst Y2K worries behind them, network executives are now turning to projects that were waylaid last year because of preparations for the dreaded millennium bug.

E-commerce initiatives are at the top of many to-do lists. And network executives who replaced old software with new Y2K-compliant programs can't wait to take their brand-new systems out for a test drive to see what they can do.

"This should be the era of stability and payback," says Brian Moses, an assistant vice president at Lombard Canada, a major Toronto insurance firm.

"Y2K coincided with the Internet revolution. Now we need to see how we can leverage all the Y2K investments we made in infrastructure for e-commerce. It's payback time."

Moses is just one of the thousands of IT managers getting his team back on track after diverting time and budgets to concentrate on millennium worries.

According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of 100 U.S. companies with more than $100 million in revenue, 50 percent said they had deferred or aborted projects because of Y2K.

And three-fourths of the companies said they would resume that work in the first quarter of this year. In fact, work on deferred projects already has begun at Lombard Canada.

Moses intends to use the upgraded network - new Windows NT 4.0 servers, Cisco routers and nonmainframe applications - as the base for building a Web site and launching an e-commerce initiative.

Lombard has been using IBM's Information Network, a mail exchange facility, for some rudimentary electronic mailing and e-commerce, spending $25,000 to $30,000 per month on communication expenses alone.

This year he hopes to have enough of a Web presence to handle 40 percent to 50 percent of certain types of transactions and communications online. Those transactions, such as new business submissions, endorsements, name changes or policy renewals, should be handled 100 percent online by next year, according to Moses' plan.

"We figure this will save us a half-million dollars over three years in communication costs alone," Moses says. "We overhauled a lot of processes and systems, and now we can use that to our advantage."

Kalman Shor, director of IS at Michael Anthony Jewelers, a Mt. Vernon, N.Y., jewelry manufacturer and supplier, also is using the upgrades his company made for Y2K to build a Web presence.

"We have a pretty much static, informational Web site right now," Shor says.

"We're going to Internet-enable our business-to-business work. It will allow us to react quicker to our customers' needs."

Shor, who says Michael Anthony diverted about 30 percent to 35 percent of its IT budget to Y2K, also is moving quickly to start a project to automate the company's shop floors, giving special attention to tracking materials.

"We have immediately started on three new projects," Shor says, noting that the two top projects are the shop floor automation and the e-commerce push. "We came in here [after the Y2K rollover] and everything was fine, so we just started working on our new projects."

Jane Burke, an analyst at Boston's PricewaterhouseCoopers, notes e-commerce is one of the top projects that IT managers are eager to dive into this year.

"Companies have been experimenting with it and now that they're freed up, this is the chance to really get into it," Burke says. "People are looking to offer additional products over the Web, get into markets they haven't been in before and work with new partners."

And that's exactly what IT managers are looking to do at L.L. Bean, the Freeport, Maine, outdoor retail giant.

"I imagine that things will pick up now that Y2K is over," says Shawn Gorman, marketing manager for e-commerce at L.L. Bean. "We're going to get 100 percent of our 15,000 products online. Now we have about 60 percent of them up, but we want to have everything available online."

Site personalization is L.L. Bean's other big goal this year, Gorman notes. He wants the site to recognize that a woman logging on is more likely to be an apparel shopper than a hard-core outdoor adventurer. That way the page she sees will be tailored to her. With the IT team at L.L. Bean no longer focusing on digits and rollover worries, Gorman says they'll be able to focus on these projects.

Y2K preparations have put one major U.S. data warehouse and e-commerce company in a good position for this year, according to the company's lead network analyst.

"Y2K was more of an interruption than anything else," says the network analyst.

"Our 2000 budget was cut in half, and that money was diverted to Y2K."

Now that the millennium has rolled by without any discernible hitches, it's time for the company to get back to work on moving several hundred users off modem connections.

Some companies, however, aren't going to leap headfirst into new projects - not until they're sure that all possible Y2K hazards are behind them. The two biggest dates that caused Y2K nightmares - the Jan. 1 rollover and the first day back to business on Jan. 3 - have passed, but companies still have to get beyond the first month-end reports and the upcoming leap year day.

"I'm 95% looking at the business at hand and 5% keeping an eye on Y2K," says Russ Schadd, a network specialist at Wallace Computer Services in Lisle, Ill.

"We had 20 to 40 people dedicated to the Y2K project, and they'll be returning to their normal duties. But we're not through this thing yet. We'll be back to work as soon as this is all said and done."

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