After Christie Brinkley toured Nu Skin International's headquarters in downtown Provo a few months ago, she asked a question that floored the firm's computer systems manager.
"By the way," asked the super model who pitches the company's beauty products, "what is Nu Skin doing about Y2K?"The computer guy actually had quite a lengthy answer for Billy Joel's ex-wife that had nothing to do with secret skin-cream formulas or retirement plans as the acronym might suggest.
Y2K stands for Year 2000. (K is an abbreviation kilo or thousand.) It refers to the anticipated worldwide computer crash at the dawn of the 21st century.
The year 2000 promises to throw the world into computerized chaos because computers everywhere have been programmed to use two-digit years. In other words, they assume the century. When the millennium turns, some computers will think it's the year 1900. Others will know the correct date, but when they communicate with a computer that doesn't, all kinds of wacky, frustrating things could happen.
Nu Skin will put out as much as $3 million to be prepared for the great and dreadful day.
John P. Terry, a senior project manager who heads the company's Y2K team, wondered at a Provo/Orem Chamber of Commerce luncheon Friday whether other businesses and individuals will be ready.
"If you don't believe this is going to happen, your business will fail," he said.
The chamber and Nu Skin want to set up a Utah Valley Y2K users group to get companies on the track to becoming "2000 compliant."
"Many people have thought this was an IT (information technology) problem," Terry said. But "this isn't some esoteric thing that deals . . . only with IT bitheads. If you don't pay attention now, you won't be here next year."
This thing is so serious that apparently even super models pay attention.
"Y2K is more and more becoming a household word. People are being made aware of what the issues are," said Terry, former president of CodeMaster Corp., the firm that introduced Provo and Orem cities to computerized municipal code publishing.
Virtually every piece of equipment containing a microprocessor could go haywire or simply shut down. Maybe the car won't start. Maybe the sprinklers won't come on. Maybe a building's security system won't let anyone in - or out. Worse, entire businesses could go the way of the world at the stroke of midnight. Or maybe a forward-thinking business would come through all right, but some of its critical suppliers or vendors wouldn't.
Terry said that a crippled business could not only expect a flood of customer complaints, but possibly lawsuit.
"Attorneys are just having a heyday. They're kind of looking forward to the year 2000, unlike the rest of us," he said.
And, in fact, the parade to the courthouse has already started. A Michigan fruit store is suing the manufacturer of a credit card-authorization machine. The entire system stalled after a customer ran through a card bearing a 2000 expiration date. The store contends the manufacturer knew the devices were defective when it sold them. That's just the beginning, Terry said.
The Gartner Group, a world leader on advice about information technology, estimates Y2K problems will cost $300 billion to $600 billion worldwide.
Terry listed several measures businesses can take to protect themselves and to get their vendors to do the same. The sooner a business gets started, the less expensive it will be. The going rate for rewriting computer code - the language that makes a software program run - is about $1.50 line and soaring, Terry said. He estimates Nu Skin has about 2 million lines of computer code.
Creating a steering committee is the first step. The committee can then oversee a complete inventory of all hardware, applications, systems software, utilities, interfaces and computer-controlled devices within the company. The company then should prioritize and assess the need for each item before applying the 5 Rs - replace, retire, rehost, repair or retain.
Terry also suggests companies write letters to their software suppliers asking them to ensure their products will correctly process date fields and related logic as the 20th century passes away.
He provided a sample letter to business leaders at the Provo/Orem Chamber meeting.
Preparing to Y2K will probably be the single, most expansive project a company will take on with no hope for a return on the investment, except staying in business, he said.
Terry said it's important for businesses and individuals to get educated now about potential computer-related problems so they can ask the right questions before buying new electronic devices and software.
A friend of Terry's programmed his watch to read 11:55 p.m., Dec. 31, 1999 and let it run. At midnight, the digital read out went blank. "He thought, How do you reboot this thing?" Terry said.