Y2K experience shows Millennium bug may strike early

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Subject: ICL Y2K experience shows Millennium bug may strike early.

"Note: The information below is provided for your information. The DON CIO has not independently verified the accuracy of these statements."

ICL Y2K experience shows Millennium bug may strike early. ICL, a UK IT systems and services company, is warning of the potential for the millennium bug to strike early or late in chips embedded in building systems, such as fire alarm panels, which are set or adjusted manually. The warning follows tests conducted by the company on its own office building systems, which indicate that some chips are operating with the wrong time. ICL is advising businesses which have not begun to test their electronic systems to ensure they initiate contingency planning without delay, and to budget for an element of replacement hardware in their 1999 capital budgets.

In January 1997, ICL embarked upon a program to ensure its building systems within its 347 office facilities worldwide were Year 2000 compliant. The company wrote to all its equipment suppliers for compliance assurances before producing detailed schedules of plant and equipment with risk ratings against each item. Some 30,000 embedded chips in everything from coffee vending machines to closed circuit security cameras were audited and chips tested in equipment designated as "mission critical" or of high importance to the continued operation of the business.

The tests, which involved rolling on the internal clock of the chip to the Year 2000 and beyond, revealed potential failures in a number of systems. Andy Penman, ICL's building infrastructure compliance manager said: "We identified potential bugs in three critical systems: within certain PABX systems which could have left us without working telephones; in building access systems which could have compromised our security and in fire alarm panels that if faulty could have exposed our personnel to fire risks.

We are taking no risks and all these systems will be tested, upgraded or replaced. "When examining the fire alarm panels we discovered that very few of them had chips synchronized on the correct time, with some even having an incorrect date. We believe this to be an operational rather than a manufacturing problem and is most likely due to the wrong time being input when a panel is commissioned, or during maintenance when the device is disconnected from its power supply." While ICL has nearly completed its buildings compliance program, few large corporations are as far advanced in their preparations. " Our solution has been to prioritize buildings and apply a strict risk equation," said Penman. "In the case of a fire alarm panel which is over 10 years old we simply add it to our list for replacement. At GBP 5,000-GBP 10,000 per panel we've factored these items into our capital budgets. My concern is that by next year, many companies will start to realize what needs doing, but there'll be no budgets in place and that's going to cause problems. "Equally if a large number of companies realize they need new fire alarm control panels sometime during the second half of 1999, then they may find that both the hardware and installers are in short supply. The same applies to other key building equipment. Really, the issue isn't simply about two-digit dates and computer codes; it's about business continuity and managing risk. Companies of all sizes need to start contingency planning and prioritizing before it's too late."

Additional details can be obtained from Neil Pattie/Daniel Bausor, ICL Tel: +44 (0)1753 604735 e-mail: neil.pattie@icl.com.

-- Helium (Heliumavid@yahoo.com), October 23, 1999

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