Case Study

Utility Companies Prepare for the Year 2000

Companies across the nation are working on Y2K compliance programs to prepare for 12:00 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2000. Everyone wants to make sure that when the clock strikes midnight that everything continues to operate like normal, especially the power. Northeast Utilities Program Manager Philip Decaprio is confident that his company's Y2K compliance program will work fine when the year 2000 comes along, according to PC Week.

Although DeCaprio is confident about his company's Y2K status, he has no control over what happens at the four interconnecting power grids that supply electricity across the country. One utility with an outage could cause a cascading effect across the nation's electrical power supply, according to PC Week.

Industry and regulatory committees are stressing the importance of addressing Y2K compliance because all utilities are facing the same problem. Earlier this month the North American Electric Reliability Council released a report to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) stressing the importance of the power industries' Y2K readiness. As of November, most companies had 44% of mission-critical components tested. Of those systems, only a small percentage had Y2K abnormalities such as incorrect dates in event logs or displays. According to experts those flaws will have minimal effect on keeping generators in service and electricity supplied to customers.

Utilities are expected to be ready by the summer to participate in a NERC Y2K drill, which is scheduled for September. This drill will test the overall preparedness of the industry, according to PC Week. The NERC plans to work with those utilities that are not ready for the millennium.

DeCaprio is working with the NERC and ISO New England Inc., which is responsible for managing the region's power generation and transmission systems to ensure Northeast Utilities does not pose any threat to the nation. To date, the company's mission-critical applications are ready, including human resources, payroll, accounts payable, service interruption reporting and shareholder services. Decaprio and his team is still working on its customer information billing system, which resides on an IBM mainframe, according to PC Week.

DeCaprio said the reason that the billing system is behind schedule on Y2K compliance is not IT oversight, but industry deregulation. "We needed to make some modifications to match deregulation, and [now] we need to make sure those changes are Y2K-compliant," DeCaprio said. He expects to be finished with the billing system in July.

Northeast Utilities' plan for the next 11 months is to continuously test its Y2K efforts. DeCaprio said that the company is accustomed to dealing with emergency situations such as storm outages. In some ways, Y2K is easier to deal with than an accidental outage.