Steve Henderson talked confidently about Nebraska's future plans for information technology. The fact that Henderson, the state's deputy administrator for Information Management Services, is focused on the future is remarkable given the high anxiety in government concerning the year-2000 problem. But Henderson's confidence stems from the fact that Nebraska became the first state to announce that its mission-critical systems were 100-percent Y2K compliant, according to a survey by the National Association of State Information Resource Executives (NASIRE).

Henderson is hardly gloating, however, noting that his department is diligently working on everything from contingency plans to public awareness. Yet the monkey is off Nebraska's back, so to speak. "We completed validation in March," he said. "For purposes of large-scale computing, the bread-and-butter systems are now compliant."

Good News, Bad News

It's down-to-the-wire time for states and their mission-critical systems, as the biggest IT project in computer history has a hard and fast deadline. It's also one of the most expensive computer programs ever launched. States are expected to spend $3.5 billion to renovate and repair computer systems plagued by the Y2K bug, according to the National Governors' Association (NGA).

This vast undertaking has a sense of urgency to it as the clock ticks. The good news is that most states are making great progress, according to John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, which met with the NGA and NASIRE in March to ensure state continuity with federal planning efforts.

The bad news is that some states have far to go. "We are still getting calls from states for help, especially in the area of embedded chips and other parts of [non-critical] computer systems," said Tom Velez, CIO for Computer Technology Associates, a computer services firm based in Bethesda, Md. One problem government and the private sector are discovering, according to Velez, is that flaws are showing up in supposedly repaired software.

"IT repair work is not flawless," he said. "Software still may not be correct and may have to be revalidated."

A quick look at some numbers offers an explanation. In a March survey, NASIRE found that nearly 40 percent of its members had repaired and validated less than 50 percent of their mission-critical systems. Complicating matters are the typical delays facing those agencies that elected to migrate their systems to a new platform rather than repair code.

On the brighter side, the survey revealed that 28 percent of states and territories had repaired and validated 75 percent or more of their mission-critical systems. Topping the list, four states had validated 90 percent or more of their systems.

This elite group-- Florida, Michigan, Nebraska and Pennsylvania -- and others not far behind, bear striking similarities when it comes to their success factors in Y2K remediation. They are also moving forward on new IT initiatives while wrapping up non-critical Y2K work, and have had time to reflect and absorb valuable lessons.

Success Factors

Like Nebraska, Pennsylvania began Y2K planning and remediation in 1996. Charles Gerhards, Pennsylvania's deputy secretary of information technology, said the early start allowed the state to begin without any kind of panic. That calm approach, in turn, allowed Gerhards' staff to put in place a qualified project management team equipped with the proper tools for monitoring progress.

"We tracked 46,000 computer programs and required each agency to give us a date when the program was to be fixed and tested," he explained.

In addition, the Office of Information Technology issued report cards for agency progress and performance on Y2K remediation: green for acceptable, yellow for borderline and red for poor or failing performance. The results were circulated throughout the state government, so everybody knew how well everybody else was doing. "Those report card results developed into peer pressure that had a

Tod Newcombe  |  Features Editor