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1998-04-24 06:33:30


United Nations Offers Comprehensive Summary of Problems



This special report is from UNESCAP: United Nations Educational and Social Organization (UNESCO) Asia-Pacific. It covers the basics quite well.

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Disturbing inaction while the millennium bomb keeps ticking

The Asia and Pacific region has been too slow in getting prepared for the date that many computer systems cannot handle. The current financial and economic turmoil could not have come at a worse time as governments and companies alike need resources to make their systems year 2000 compliant. Now is the last moment to create public awareness and start fixing priority systems, as many of them will fail as early as 1 January 1999. . . .

According to industry reports, Y2K awareness and progress in addressing the problem have been sluggish practically everywhere, except in the United States. Many developing countries that use IT quite widely have been mentioned among those that have hardly started addressing the problem. In Asia, Australia is known to be the leader, while India, New Zealand and Singapore are also making good progress. Surprisingly slow action has been reported in developed regions, including Japan and Europe. The slow European response is partly because many countries have another priority to take care of simultaneously, namely the transition to a new common currency (which will eventually affect international transaction systems all over the world).

In Asia, the current economic turmoil has tended to focus minds on daily survival, with less immediate goals being pushed aside. In principle, the governments have no choice but to fix their key applications; inaction could seriously disrupt internal administration, accounting, government transactions and public services. As the time to identify and fix problems will run out anyway, all government offices should engage themselves in contingency planning in case their key systems fail. Ignoring the problem will not make it disappear, but merely lead to escalation of costs. . . .

It is rather surprising, even embarrassing, that appreciation of the year 2000 problem has started gaining momentum only now, as the first failures were detected a long time ago. For example, mortgage companies faced year 2000 problems as early as 1970 when calculating 30-year mortgages. Failures have been detected in credit card expiration dates, and many other forward-looking situations. While most of the above failures were fixed in the course of normal maintenance, it will be much more difficult to keep up with the pace of accelerating occurences as the double-zero year approaches. . . .

Time is running out. The first big wave of Y2K failures will come one year before the D-day as systems rollover to cover a year forward. Therefore, an acceptable deadline for having the fixes in place is 1 January 1999. Note that the acquisition of new software and hardware takes time, and delivery times will get longer as the demand increases. All our systems will be replaced by the year 2000. . . .

Scaling the mainframe problem

The Gartner Group estimates that approximately 80 per cent of the computer code to be fixed is on large mainframe systems. Contrary to what one might feel after reading computer magazines, only a minority of large systems have been modernized or "downsized" to client-server. At the same time, the installed mainframe processing power has continued to increase, and it is estimated that more than half of the large scale systems are running on mainframes less than two years old. However, much of the new stock of mainframes is running old software, susceptible to year 2000 failures. Moreover, the mainframes seldom run in isolation, but supply data in great volumes or provide data processing muscle to PC-based or client/server systems that provide an easier presentation layer for the information stored in the mainframes. "Downsizing" these large systems is not (any more) a key to year 2000 compliance due to time, skills and resource constraints. [Source: Testimony of Bruce H. Hall, GartnerGroup Research Director, Applications Development Methods and Management, before the U.S. House of Representatives Science Subcommittee on Technology and the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology, 20 March 20, 1997; hall_3-20.html]. . . . Fixing obscure year 2000 instances that were missed prior to the end of the century;

Repairing bad fixes that accidentally introduced new errors;

Frantically completing new applications that were intended to replace ageing legacy software, but which were not finished prior to the end of the century;

Hardware upgrades and retuning of applications whose performance was degraded by hasty repairs;

Litigation expenses for the host of anticipated year 2000 law suits.


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