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Summary and Comments

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1997-10-24 12:43:57


If Public Faith Collapses. . . .



Here is one of the few asssessments that deals with the issue of public confidence. The technicians and reporters who dominate the analysis of y2k do not like to think about this issue. This is especially true of the y2k programmers, who do not want to believe that they are laboring in the engine room of the Titanic, and getting paid well for doing so. Water problem? "Yes, but not now. Later. And not too bad . . . if you keep paying me."

This assessment is different. Its author, Geoff Palmer, even asks a variation of the question I keep asking, and which programmers keep telling me is "not helpful."

"So how will your bank fare if half your customers suddenly withdraw their savings in the last week of 1999 'just in case'?"

* * * * * * *

1.It's not just an IT problem, it's a business problem. If your creditors suddenly become debtors, and vice versa, or your customers think your product is 100 years past its use-by date, firing your IT manager won't make a blind bit of difference as your stock tumbles off the SE40.

2.Confidence is everything. Where would the business world be without consumer trust and confidence? The Y2K problem's had a lot of popular airing and is bound to get a whole lot more. In spite of the inroads PCs have made into our homes, the average person neither really understands nor fully trusts computers. All they're aware of is that some vague gremlin is going to finish them all off in a couple of years. So how will your bank fare if half your customers suddenly withdraw their savings in the last week of 1999 "just in case"?

3.It has the potential to affect every system in your company. From PCs to PABXs, from card access systems to the timing of surveillance monitoring. Embedded chips--- the kind used in communications, production lines and countless other areas -- are susceptible and are everywhere. Seven billion of them were made last year alone.

4.Its hidden effects will be the most deadly. Systems that fail noticeably get fixed, but the output from systems that appear to keep on working are taken as gospel. How long do you think it would take your staff to spot a small glitch in mortgage amortisation calculations, or indeed that Pi had suddenly become 3?

5.There are no back-out procedures for a change of century. Traditionally, system failures are dealt with by regression; restore an old working version of the software, run it over the back ups and let the boffins fix the fault in the morning. But restoring the old software won't work any more because it is the problem. And time marches on. You can't go on pretending it's still 1999 for ever.

6.This deadline isn't movable. It is the ultimate "death march" project. You may be able to down-scale the requirements but you can't change the deadline. If, like many projects, 90% of the work still needs to be completed in the last 10% of the time, you could be in big trouble.

7.The CEO, the board of directors and other company officers may be held personally liable. Certainly under US law, officers who fail to "exercise due fiduciary care" may be liable for company losses. In this country, our Companies Act means directors who ignore the problem can be exposed to charges of reckless trading or failure to exercise due care and diligence. This applies to your own company and may also apply to other businesses which your lack of compliance may have jeopardised. After all the publicity, you can hardly claim you didn't know this was coming.

8.Lawsuits, lawsuits and more lawsuits. Litigious US legal firms are calling Y2K the next "stealth" lawsuit since, though not expressly stated, its implications are everywhere. From customers, vendors, suppliers and distributors through to insurance and employment contracts, it's going to cost and cost.

9.It's an "ugly money" project. It'll require expenditure in time and money - and in some cases very large amounts of both - all for no tangible benefit. In the best-case scenario it may all just go on determining you don't have a problem. In the worst-case, you're going to be spending vast sums just to keep your current systems working.


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