94% of firms have not checked their systems for embedded chip malfunctions.
This appeared in the AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW (April 20).
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Embedded chips have been described as the "forgotten millennium bug" and tracking down those at risk is described by industry experts as "a business-critical exercise in sleuthing".
Unlike information technology systems and software which can be overhauled centrally, embedded chips are difficult to find and even harder to test. "Embedded chips are the most insidious of things.
They can control everything from lifts and air conditioning to intelligent transport systems and the chemicals added to the water supply," said Mr Thom Fox, who manages automation projects for consultant engineers Sinclair Knight Merz.
Embedded chips result from the evolution of increasingly smaller microprocessors. They typically control automative functions in "stand alone" equipment including building automation, security and life support systems, pumps and office equipment. The chips can also be literally "embedded" -- encased in silicon or another material to function in extreme conditions like mines or at the ocean bottom.
Power and water utilities, manufacturers, telecommunications and mining companies are among those seeking the help of engineering consultants to identify those chips which control business-critical functions and are "date-aware".
However, while many larger businesses are testing their IT systems for millennium compliance, according to a recent survey by Coopers & Lybrand only 6 per cent of companies had looked at their non-IT systems and equipment. . . .
One global study, released in December 1997 by the Gartner Group of consultants, predicts the failure of 50 million embedded system devices. The US computer industry has forecast a failure rate of 500 million, or 2 per cent of the 25 billion chips installed in electronic components worldwide, but cannot identify which 2 per cent. . . .
The auditing process can be time consuming and costly. But consultants warn that costs will only escalate due to human and financial resources becoming scarcer as 2000 approaches.