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Mark Grossman

So, You're ready for Year 2000...what about the other guy?

30 June 1998

So, You're ready for Year 2000...what about the other guy?

Many of you have probably received letters from other companies asking if your computer systems are Year 2000 capable. If you haven't received one, I promise that you'll get one soon.

We're now seeing a flurry of letter writing. Everybody is asking everybody else about their readiness for the Year 2000. Many of these form letters are extremely detailed. Some are more general. The big question is, do you answer them? And, if you do, what do you say?

It seems like a simple enough question. "Do you answer them?" The answer is: 'it depends'.

You have to look at your relationship with the asking party. Rarely have I found situations where my client was even arguably required to answer. Still, if you value the relationship with the asking party, I don't think ignoring the request is the way to go.

In our increasingly computerized world, we are not only reliant on our own computers, but also on the systems of those with whom we do business. You'd like to know if their systems will work in about 18 months. While many are sending these inquiry letters as ways to set up for future litigation, I think your lawyer should be able to deflect that purpose.

The key is to be careful. You can create legal obligations and warranties by your answers to these inquiries. You must have legal counsel when setting up policies and procedures for dealing with year 2000 inquiries. You can use these inquiries in a positive way by beginning a dialogue with the party asking the questions.

This needn't be a game of who can outmaneuver the other. While protecting your legal position so that you don't end up on the wrong side of a Year 2000-related failure lawsuit, you can and should be communicating with those who are important to your business.

You each need to assess where the other will be in 2000. You need to begin planning for their system failures and your own.

If misery loves company, you have plenty. All statistics point to almost every company having some systems fail. The key is to make sure that the systems that fail aren't critical. It's only if you're expecting critical failures or don't have any idea which of your systems will fail that you should feel panicked. Moreover, with 18 months to go, if you think critical systems may fail, you can still possibly salvage the situation if you accept that you're in a crisis and act accordingly now.

So, when you get those inquiry letters, I recommend a bland form response to those who aren't important to you. If the relationship is important, use the inquiry as a chance to start talking honestly with one another.

If you haven't yet sent out your own inquiries, you should do it immediately. Start by evaluating your business relationships. Please, only send inquiries to those that are important to you. Don't send it to everyone in your Rolodex. You don't help the process by adding to the flurry of useless paper that's floating around in the guise of a year 2000 inquiry letter.

If the letter isn't important enough to follow-up with a telephone call, then it probably wasn't worth sending in the first place.

So, You're ready for Year 2000...what about the other guy? is republished from
Mark Grossman
Mark Grossman