China Daily: Y2K Thretens Welfare Programs : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

LONDON (Agencies via Xinhua) _ If you think that high technology hardly touches your world, watch out because the millennium computer bug could seriously damage your life.

Pensioners, the long-term unemployed and those dependent on Europe's huge welfare system rely on regular injections of cash from governments to make ends meet. To them, computers are mostly vaguely threatening, but far-off complication for those in the world of work.

But welfare state recipients depend on a massive computerized infrastructure for the delivery of their benefits. These huge systems are often run by old computers and administered by underfunded organizations.

They look like prime candidates for an attack from the millennium bug. It does not matter much if a computer crashes and your new car is not delivered on time. But real hardship soon ensues if pensions or welfare cheques stop.

"We would expect to see embarrassing disruptive failures in government computer systems which will affect spending programmes and social security," said Andy Kyte, an analyst with the US information technology research company Gartner Group.

Computers are exposed to a problem that sounds almost too trivial to be true.

During the 1970s and 1980s, computer programmers saved what was then valuable space by abbreviating years to two digits _ such as 97 or 85 _ knowing that this would cause mayhem in 2000. Computers would be unable to make sense of the last two zeros in 2000 and would crash or start pumping out erroneous data.

Because of the fast moving nature of information technology, there was a widely held belief that this problem would be worked out before 2000 dawned.

This assumption was false, and companies and governments around the world are scurrying to fix the problem in time.

The Gartner Group said this could cost between US$300 billion and US$600 billion worldwide to fix. Companies have spent huge sums to cure the problem. But governments find it more difficult to mobilize resources to fix what some people dismiss as a fictitious problem.

In Europe, wide-ranging German and French welfare systems are causing concerns. Spain, Italy, and Belgium also have huge social security systems.

Robin Guenier, executive director of Britain's Taskforce 2000, a privately-funded organization seeking to raise awareness of the millennium bug, has been scathing in his criticism of the British Government's plans to thwart the problem.

But Guenier does concede that Britain's efforts compare favourably even with the perceived leader, the United States.

Britain has also been relatively open about its problems.

"We know they (Germany and France) started later. We know they have very old mainframe systems running social security systems in Germany and France," Guenier said.

"We have not finished, but the UK is doing quite well. Germany and France surely cannot have finished. So little information is available from either country and that is an indicator that things could be very bad."

Ian Taylor, an opposition Conservative member of parliament and former minister for technology, is impressed with progress in Britain and the Netherlands.

Taylor said compared with the business world, government officials had less motivation to fix the problem. But firms dedicated to fixing the problem are still in difficulties.

"Even with harsh commercial reality to drive them on, some companies are struggling. I cannot believe that public services within the European Union have quite the same external drive to get this right," Taylor said.

Gartner Group's Kyte said he was less worried about France than Germany. French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin issued tough instructions late last year to central and local governments to ensure continuity in public services. Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn also intervened to insist on action.

"These were significant interventions. Until then Y2K lacked a degree of credibility. This was a marked change in gear. It is not to say they are out of the woods, but it is very clear serious work is being done now," said Kyte.

Date: 07/29/99

-- Old Git (, August 07, 1999

Moderation questions? read the FAQ