Germany and Y2K - Ready or Not? : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

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ALLDORF, Germany--Despite fears the world over that the year 2000 is a ticking time bomb, there is no survivalist run on generators or stockpiling of canned food in the bastion of engineering excellence that is modern Germany.

In fact, the only visible signs of the so-called millennium bug are the burgeoning sales revenues of high-tech industries selling Y2K solutions.

Germans view Y2K as an overrated "technical problem." And with the nearly problem-free launch of a common currency comfortably behind them, Germans argue that this year's much more daunting conversion of European society to the new euro currency proves they can handle a simple turn of a computerized calendar page.

"The euro affected everything. I think people in America don't realize what a huge change this was for us. All of a sudden, we had this big new marketplace where 11 separatecountries used to be, affecting business, taxes, transport, borders--everything changed overnight," says Michael Klemen, director of European sales marketing for SAP, the world's leading business-management software provider, which has transformed the erstwhile wheat fields of this town near Heidelberg into Germany's answer to Silicon Valley.

Klemen, like others in the low-profile army of German Y2K trouble-shooters, insists this country is being unjustly marked down on millennium readiness because the analysts have mistaken the euro conversion for a distraction when it really was a dry run.

But the warnings emanating from global consulting firms such as GartnerGroup and Cap Gemini that Germany is woefully behind in the worldwide effort to avert a Jan. 1, 2000, catastrophe raise the question of whether Germany is not just calm but complacent.

Britain, France and Italy--the other European members of the Group of 7 industrialized nations--also have been rated as wanting in readiness for the rash of computer breakdowns that might occur when systems designed to read the year as two digits misinterpret the change as 1999 to 1900.

French officials have jokingly expressed as much concern about the adequacy of champagne supplies for the New Year as for high-tech preparedness. Britain's more visible activity on Y2K concerns can probably be attributed to its having opted out of the European Monetary Union--and with it, the experience of weathering a major conversion.

"I'm quite confident that we won't have an economic crisis," says Deutsche Bank's Gerhard Singer, Germany's chief expert and trouble-shooter on Y2K problems. "I think people who talk about an economic crisis of such magnitude have an interest in selling survival products."

As Germany's representative on the steering committee of Global 2000--an initiative of 250 private financial institutions operating in international markets aimed at heading off Y2K breakdowns--Singer believes he has a better view of this country's preparation than do the doomsayers evaluating individual indicators in a vacuum. For instance, he notes, GartnerGroup's determination that Germany's banking sector was "as badly prepared as Russia's" was an erroneous conclusion based on interpreting the absence of information technology projects at hundreds of smaller savings and loans to mean there was no review underway to ensure their operations were Y2K-compliant. In fact, Singer insists, the computer systems for those banks are managed by collective data centers that have extensive information technology teams tackling potential millennium glitches.

German government agencies especially are lagging, but the biggest risks are being overcome by private sector initiatives. Most federal and local government agencies have at least some SAP software, so each has benefited from the company's customized Y2K reviews, advisories and "hot packages" mailed out to help product users identify risks in their systems.

Frank Sempert of SEC Sempert Consulting in Frankfurt, spokesman for Initiative 2000, a German private-sector Y2K effort, says a big fear is the finance industry, because of its tightly connected information systems governing trade and transactions. But the euro experience has gone far in boosting confidence in that sector's ability to foresee and forestall problems, he says.

More worrisome is the industrial supply chain. The failure of the smallest parts-provider to a major manufacturer could bring production to a screeching and costly halt. Munich-based BMW already has invested about $118 million to avert Y2K problems, and most of the spending has been aimed at ensuring suppliers are ready, says Winfried Schmidt, BMW's head of technology and infrastructure.

Nuclear power plants have been proclaimed Y2K-invulnerable by the Environment Ministry, and military weapons systems have been checked and declared ready by the Defense Ministry.

The most risk-prone sector, where lives might hang in the balance, Sempert says, is the health-care industry, as modern hospitals are "like a giant computerized factory where the equipment is not run by IT specialists but by doctors."

Despite the prevailing calm, warnings like that of the Federal Assn. of Producers of Medical Products that describes Germany's largest hospitals as alarmingly unprepared have given rise to a small force urging hibernation as the best hedge against disaster.

"Stay home and keep enough cash and food to get along for several days without a supermarket," advises Wilhelm Schaefer, a computer science professor at the University of Paderborn who believes the worst-case scenario is highly unlikely, but that there's nothing to lose in hiding out.

* * *

Christian Retzlaff in Berlin, Janet Stobart in London and Christine Winner in Paris contributed to this report.

* * *

-- Linkmeister (, June 08, 1999


I suspected the arrogant Americans were overblowing this. Now will you leave us alone?

-- Hans (, June 08, 1999.

Hans (or is that Jimmy?),


Blackout In Berlin? The Sunday, March 28, 1999 edition of Germanys respected FOCUS Magazine included a Y2K cover story on the readiness of the nations major cities. The results were shocking, according to the leading German newsweekly. Together with the German Conference of Cities, FOCUS surveyed all German communities with more than 100,000 inhabitants. Three-quarters of the 83 communities were unprepared for the century date change: 1) One in four cities was unable to clearly outline their program for electrical service. 2) Half of all communities had not tested hospital systems. 3) One-third failed to complete procedures for their local transportation system. Guenther Ennen, a Y2K official of the German Federal government said, Anyone who fails to complete the change procedures soon should break off all tests and concentrate on contingency planning for emergencies and blackouts.


-- Linkmeister (, June 08, 1999.

If I got most of my power from Russia, I wouldn't worry about fixing my systems either.

-- FLAME AWAY (, June 08, 1999.

Well, just a heads up...

My parents live back in the old country and this topic is very close to my heart. Due to this fact I get lots of info from germany about y2k. Thank gosh I got my mom to realize what the problem is. She got it in all of about 20 minutes and then did her own research.

Met a consultant to a couple *major* german banks. He works Y2K over there. I *DO* have his name, address and know for sure what banks he works for. This is not second hand info for me.

He basically told me that there is a lot of *fudging* going on at higher levels to make them *look* y2k compliant. Said they are hopelessly behind and that people are starting to feel the heat. Talked a lot about interconnectivity with other banks and that things are not looking good.

In Hannover, Germany they just got through testing one of their major powerplants. Did the same test for the third time. When clocks roll over they still have problems. During the first test the entire plant just shut down. This is one of the poster childs for german power plants.

Well, we'll see in about 6 months what's going to happen.

-- STFrancis (, June 08, 1999.

Nuclear power plants have been proclaimed Y2K-invulnerable by the Environment Ministry

Wanna guess if they've even been tested?

-- Doug (, June 08, 1999.

Deutsche Bank....Isn't that who Yardinni works for? I wonder what they think of his thought ok the issue

-- Preparing (, June 08, 1999.

Deutsche Bank....Isn't that who Yardinni works for? I wonder what they think of his thoughts on the issue

-- Preparing (, June 08, 1999.

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