FLEMING 'CATCHES' AN EARLY YEAR-2000 COMPUTER BUG

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Even a company as far along in its year-2000 work as Fleming can be caught unaware by the widespread computer problem.The wholesaler recently discovered a year-2000 bug that would have deleted all its forward buying deals slated to take place in 1999 on Jan. 1, 1999, according to Mike McCormick, director of the Y2K project for Fleming Cos., Oklahoma City.McCormick spoke at a session

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Even a company as far along in its year-2000 work as Fleming can be caught unaware by the widespread computer problem.

The wholesaler recently discovered a year-2000 bug that would have deleted all its forward buying deals slated to take place in 1999 on Jan. 1, 1999, according to Mike McCormick, director of the Y2K project for Fleming Cos., Oklahoma City.

McCormick spoke at a session entitled "The Year-2000 Problem: Time is Running Out -- 430 Days and Counting," at the Productivity Convention and Exposition, held here Oct. 25-28.

"We caught it [the forward buying system bug] in our testing," he told SN. The year-2000 program logic caused the glitch, which was discovered about a month ago and has since been corrected, he added.

McCormick said that if the problem had not been caught in time, it could have affected a large number of deals.

Another element that took Fleming by surprise was that this computer glitch arrived about nine months prior to the wholesaler's projected "failure horizon."

The wholesaler has been working on the year-2000 problem for over two years, and McCormick said that he believed any remaining year-2000 failures at Fleming would occur around June 1999.

He told the workshop audience that they have to look at testing as a "long term deal"and added that "1999 is for testing." For large companies, if a year-2000 program is not currently in place, "it's too late."

According to McCormick, the best thing a large company can do at this point if it has not prepared for the year-2000 problem is to take a "triage" approach, which means deciding what systems are most important and correcting them.

"It's not going to wait until 1999," McCormick said; last month's bug brought the point home to Fleming. The company is currently advancing year-2000 date scenarios to find where its systems will and won't work after December 31, 1999.

McCormick also addressed concerns about the year-2000 problem's impact on computer chips embedded in a variety of equipment. He said that there are millions of chips but most are not date dependent and are not date-sensitive. "It looks like most stuff is going to work," he said.

With Fleming's testing well under way and bugs already being discovered and corrected, the wholesaler has turned its attention toward other companies that it deals with to make sure there will be no major failures in the supply chain.

"Fixing the programs in our company is the tip of the iceberg," McCormick said. "We've spent increasing time on other pieces of the supply chain."

"Small companies are where the problems lie," he added. According to McCormick, Fleming has not been successful in getting small companies to respond to surveys. As a result, the wholesaler is unsure how far along smaller companies are in correcting the year-2000 problem.

Part of Fleming's own year-2000 program, according to McCormick, is to establish contingency plans for who they will be doing business with in the future.

He said that Fleming has to figure out how vital a particular business partner might be and what happens if that partner fails. The wholesaler is currently doing an assessment of these issues.