While customers are not applying the same pressure on packaging companies and recycling firms to check for year 2000 compliance as those in some other industries, some large firms are well into the project.
With recent changes and numerous acquisitions in the packaging industry, many companies already were in the midst of upgrading existing software to accommodate new product lines, inventories and payrolls when uneasiness about the millennium bug began.
For example, Bill Haser, vice president of information technology at Tenneco Inc., said the firm was in the process of a major systems upgrade following its purchase of NV Koninklijke KNP BT of Amsterdam earlier this year.
And Minneapolis-based Bemis Co. Inc. started replacing old and aging programs four years ago.
``Some were old enough to vote and drive,'' Tom Barrett, director of advisory information technology at Bemis said of the software. ``This is seen as a business decision, not as a millennium problem.''
``We don't see this as just a 2000 issue,'' said Paul Meredith, vice president of fiber operations at recycler Image Industries Inc. in Summerville, Ga. ``It's a major improvement and a serious problem if companies sit still.''
High density polyethylene recycler KW Plastic Recycling Division located in Troy, Ala., modified and upgraded its software package earlier this year and has had it in place for several months. Tenneco's drop-dead date is June 30, 1999; Graham Packaging of York, Pa., expects to set up a ``war room'' to test all systems by 1998; and Kraft North America's target date is the end of next year.
Greenwich, Conn.-based Tenneco's task force is getting its house in order before helping its customers in the second half of 1999. And Graham's war room will test computer-aided-design systems, laptops and other personal computer-based systems. The company will load the critical application, set the date for Dec. 31, 1999, and see what happens when the time changes.
Like other firms, Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft is working with experts on the problem. Evaluating its business systems is a ``large but doable effort,'' said Jim Kinney, vice president of information services. The company still is assessing the plant floor and every piece of equipment that has software embedded in it.
Kraft plans to complete its self-evaluation and have a year to focus on its suppliers.
``It's not clear what we'll have to do [for suppliers],'' Kinney said. ``The most extreme case would be developing new suppliers. More than likely we will test with them and make sure our [electronic data interchange] connections work.''
Kinney said there are three ways companies are handling the issue. One is eliminating software — purging low-order functions.
The second route is replacing software. This is the preferred choice since new programming brings added functionality with business value. It improves computer systems and solves the year 2000 problem.
Remediation, or conversion, of software that must remain in place is the third choice.
Converting software for year 2000 compliance can take two routes, and companies don't always agree on which is better. So-called ``windowing'' keeps the year field at two digits. With this remedy, 00-50 represents 2000-2050 and 51-99 represents 1951-1999. The alternative, dubbed ``expansion,'' involves changing the year field from two digits to four, in order to differentiate 1900 from 2000.
While Tenneco's Haser believes windowing can end up being the more common route, Graham spokesman Pat Early disagrees.
``The four-digit system is the way to go,'' Early said. ``Anything else is just a stop-gap measure and is part of the problem.''
Whereas Kinney regards the concern about year 2000 compliancy to be overblown, Meredith thinks this is a serious issue for companies.
``It takes so long; it is a big job,'' he said. ``If a company hasn't started by now, they are in serious trouble.''
``This is a significant problem, but it's not the end of the world,'' Haser said. ``I can't deny there's a problem, but anyone can work around it, even if that means printing out inventory on Dec. 31, 1999, and re-entering it in January.''