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1998-03-10 13:06:21


The Nations of the World: Some Bad, Some Worse



This report indicates that the US and Canada lead the world in y2k repairs, which is a very scary thought. Both nations are facing a disaster.

The article appeared in GLOBAL TECHNOLOGY BUSINESS (Feb.). It is titled, "National Emergency."

* * * * * * *

If government computers fail as a result of the Year 2000 (Y2K) problem, the results could be catastrophic.

But, while most of the horror stories concerning Y2K centre on governments' most visible 'mission critical' systems -- including nuclear power, defence, health care and communications systems --other, much less dramatic applications could cause equal chaos. Entire economies could grind to a halt without simple government functions such as traffic control, fire and police services, not to mention banking systems, taxation and benefit systems. . . .


The technology infrastructure of countries across Latin America can be described in one of two ways - poor or non-existent. From a Y2K perspective, this could be perceived as good news as there are very few systems to update. But given the low levels of funding available, the situation is still fairly bleak.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) estimates that Latin America and the Caribbean requires $50 billion in technology investments between now and 2002 in order to meet basic infrastructure needs -- that is before Y2K costs are taken into account. As elsewhere, it is the information-intensive private institutions such as banks which have taken leadership roles in Y2K preparations, rather than the government, although government agencies handling taxes, social security or pension records have also begun to investigate Y2K implications.

"Some countries are further advanced than others. Brazil and Mexico are probably the most advanced. In Venezuela, Colombia, Chile, Bolivia there's a lot of work to do," says Alex Ott, senior vice president for German software maker SAP's Latin America division. SAP recently organised for a consultant from the Gartner Group to tour South America to highlight the Y2K issue, and the company is also trying to encourage journalists in the region to devote greater attention to Y2K and help spur companies into action. In some countries, the World Bank or International Monetary Fund may subsidise government institutions, helping them to build new, Y2K compliant systems. . . .


While few would expect Latin America to be a leader in Y2K compliance, Germany, with its reputation for efficiency and technological leadership, would appear to have all the right credentials. In fact, Germany is seriously lagging behind in Y2K preparations -- the main reason is that the country's industry and leaders cannot seem to see past January 1, 1999, when the Euro first becomes a currency in Europe.

"We are very concerned about Germany, because the level of activity in Germany is well behind where it needs to be. They are focused on EMU, but have little understanding of Y2K," says Andy Kyte, research director for Y2K at the Gartner Group in Europe. "The level of awareness in Mediterranean countries is very poor, but in Germany things are not much better, and it's a considerably more computer dependent economy," he says. "They are in a bad way." . . .


The UK, meanwhile, is considered to be one the most Y2K ready countries in Europe. The former Conservative government set up Taskforce 2000, an organisation dedicated to preaching the gospel of Y2K preparedness to British industry, back in 1996. Despite limited government funding, Robin Guenier, head of Taskforce 2000, managed to widely publicise the issue in the media and to educate hundreds of business leaders. The Taskforce estimates that 95% of UK organisations are aware of the Y2K problem.

Late in 1997, however, there were dramatic changes. Frustrated by the lack of attention given to Y2K by the new Labour government, Guenier criticised its responsiveness to his pleas to get down to work (and to get more funding) in a front-page newspaper story. As a result, Guenier's funding was taken away and the UK government has now set up a new body, called Action 2000. However, given that its funding is only 1 million and that it is run by former utilities regulator, Don Cruickshank, who works on the project just one day per week, the UK media are calling it 'Inaction 2000'.

Ironically, Guenier's dethroning may be good news. When Taskforce 2000 was set up it was specifically forbidden to talk about government readiness, but now Guenier free to discuss the issue of government preparedness -- and discuss it he does. He laughs at the government's official estimate of 3.2 million to fix systems. "I can't relate that to anything that seems to be sensible," he says. Cap Gemini, the computer services consulting company agrees, pointing out that "most IT budgets dedicated to resolving the Year 2000 [crisis] by public sector organisations are, on average, only one-fifth of those found in private sector organisations of a comparable size." . . .


If North America leads the world in Y2K compliance, as is generally perceived, then the rest of the world must be in deep trouble. . . .

How bad can it get in Canada? Based on the federal government's sluggish response, Desautels' office warns that systems supporting everything from search and rescue operations to Canada Customs' commercial cargo clearance could break down. "If they keep going at the same rate, they won't make it," says Nancy Cheng, a principal with the auditor general's office who wrote the Year 2000 report. "The testing phase generally takes more than half of the overall effort, yet the federal government is hardly into the fixing stage, which is supposed to be done by December 1998." . . .


The latest GAO disclosures show it will cost US taxpayers some $3.8 billion to fix the Y2K bugs lurking in the code in the computer systems used by the Department of Defence (DoD), Social Security Administration (SSA), the Treasury Department and other government departments. That $3.8 billion figure borders on fantasy according to some industry experts, who expect the real figure to balloon to $20 to $30 billion over the next 18 months. Worse yet, even after all that money is spent, Y2K bugs will still be infesting many of the federal government's key systems. In November 1997, the GAO released detailed reports on the Y2K projects being undertaken by the DoD, SSA and other government departments. The conclusion: While progress has been made, there is much more work to be done - perhaps too much to finish in time.


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