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Volume 31, Issue 4

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January 1, 2000–as the countdown rapidly draws closer, businesses and governments are becoming increasingly nervous about what might happen as this millennium rolls over into that special year. Will computers stop working? Will power grids fail? Will networks that support worldwide businesses do strange things? Across the globe people dedicated to preparing for not only a century change but also a new millennium are working diligently to fix all the known glitches. Programmers are attempting to correct all computer code that relies solely on 2-digit dates in order for business process programs to continue to run even as the clock ticks its way into the new year.

Initially, the Y2K struggle was geared to focusing energy on computer programs and system dates contained in old code—usually mainframe-based – in an effort to update and correct the manner these dates are represented within programs. Beyond the code correction struggle, follow-on energies are being devoted to preparing contingency plans in case these and the millions of embedded chips that exist in almost every advanced piece of equipment do not work properly after midnight on December 31, 1999. However, throughout all of this preparation, there is very little talk about our telecommunications equipment. Recent experience shows even less attention to the telephony end of telecommunications is its current situation.


Today, telephony includes both voice and data communications, as well as a critical component of all business functions. Without telephone lines no data moves and no voices reach out and touch anyone, to paraphrase a popular carrier’s advertisement. Yet, in Y2K preparations rarely are staff fully cognizant of all their corporate lines and circuits on a global, national and/or local level. Even in firms where line inventories are being collected, little thought is given to rolling up that inventory on a broader level so a telephony picture of the entire organization emerges.

Why is it important to do this? First, conducting an organization-wide inventory assists planners in developing alternate line routes in sufficient quantities so that real negotiations can be conducted with secondary vendors to provide Central Office operations originating from a different direction. What is meant by "real" negotiations? The way many organizations are currently operating is to determine their local need for redundancy and contact an alternate carrier. Most major carriers will not be interested in rapidly responding to an organization’s need for one T-1 line between Los Angeles and Phoenix, for example. However, if an organization conducts an audit of every one of its locations, all lines, inventories their characteristics, and rolls these up to one responsible point of contact or department then, large businesses would have a powerful bargaining position to achieve favorable pricing and support for Y2K needs. As in all transactions, bigger buying quantities translate into better deals. Often, this results in significant savings. If that T-1 line we discussed between Los Angeles and Phoenix became 12 T-1s crossing the country, carriers would pay more attention to the account (and be more inclined to offer exceptional pricing advantages).

How should you go about beginning to gain control of the telephony area? One of the first things you can do is to appoint a central telephone specialist to take charge and give him/her the responsibility and the authority to conduct the research needed. Next, you can instruct this person to conduct a circuit inventory. This project involves contacting each office within your entire organization, across the country or worldwide, requesting details on their number of lines, lists of types of lines, numbers of different types, copies of telephone bills, and the circuit numbers for each line. Bring all results of this inventory from each local office together into a matrix that will provide a snapshot of the entire enterprise. Then, it is time to contact the various Public Utility Commissions (these exist within each state or country to regulate public carriers) where you have a business office to provide you with the names and contacts of the carriers in each market, both locally and regionally. As you contact these providers, request proposals for providing supplementary service out of different Central Offices than currently are in place for each of your firm’s locations.

While compiling this matrix, build network diagrams at each level starting with the individual site. These diagrams should include the circuit numbers and local or long distance carrier providing services. It is a good idea to take special note of where services enter the building. Also, you will want new services brought into the sites through different entrances. As we stated earlier, these services should be provided by a different Central Office than the one from where existing services are provided. Furthermore, these diagrams will be invaluable when meeting with service providers to discuss your needs. The more information you provide, the more accurate the quote and the more efficient and less costly the installation will be. As a last step, determine how these records will be maintained and kept current. Remember, they will be needed quickly if service is ever disrupted.

How do you determine what level of service to seek in these proposals? Basically, there are three types of scenarios to pursue—survival, minimal disruption, and opportunistic. The first of these is survival. How many lines, what specific services, what types of telephones (single line, multiple line, speaker phone, automated call director, trading turrets, etc.) and services (speed call lists may replace the need for one button dial features) will you need to be able to survive a Y2K disruption? Most probably this disruption will last no more than a week. This is a bare bones approach geared to spending the least, hoping for the best (no disruption), while at the same time hedging your bet slightly to ensure that your operation does not fall off a cliff if there are problems.

The second scenario is more closely aligned with the business process as it is today. What services would you need to ensure as little disruption as possible to the business? Certainly, non-critical functions would not be provided for at the same level as today. However, they most likely would not be cast aside but, instead, would continue to provide needed services at a reduced level.

The third scenario is becoming one of the most interesting to the business community. Assuming that some companies will have several disruptions, how can you position yourself to take advantage of anomalies that occur to your competitors? Perhaps, you will need more lines than you currently have along with added staff providing coverage to be prepared to sell the services and products that your competitors cannot at that point. Are you willing to invest in additional circuitry on the chance that you can increase market share or your revenue stream? The chances are that you will need a well-thought out strategy before that question can be fully answered.

Regardless of the avenue chosen, the first step is to determine from the top of the organization down what all the telephony requirements are. Follow-on activities can then be undertaken to provide supplemental Central Office capability and long-lines redundancy. Whichever path is the correct one for your organization the critical step is in the determination of everything that you currently have and pay for at every location. Only then can you carefully manage your Y2K telephone needs in a manner that will work to the best advantage of your organization.

The goal is to be ready to conduct business on the first business day after January 1, 2000. The key is to be ready for this known event and be able to communicate.

Patricia Fisher, CEO and founder of JANUS Associates, Inc., has over 20 years of information systems and security experience. She has previously been responsible for information security and disaster recovery for IBM’s Latin American sites, as well as for direction of an IBM corporate headquarters data processing center.