Still nagging worries about preparedness (thoughtful article from Australia) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) Preparation Forum : One Thread

Y2K Readiness Commission


There are 66 days until the Y2K bug hits. The experts say we should be fine. but as Eric Wilson reports, there are still nagging worries about our preparedness. the experts say there is nothing to fear concerning Y2K breakdowns in computer-controlled systems and equipment with the changeover to 2000. Oil industry executives even go as far as calling Y2K "a non- problem". But can we believe them? chris Morris, research group director from the Gartner Group, thinks we can. he is confident about the success of our Y2K remediation efforts. So he is advising his closest friends and relatives not to worry.

"Take minimal precautions unless there's clearly a critical factor involved," he says. "Leave your money in the bank, don't buy too much extra food and don't dig a bunker in the garden." Most people won't notice anything different from new year's Day 1999. yet nagging questions remain. Why have insurance companies systematically excluded Y2K failures from policies? Why are stock exchanges demanding reports on companies' remediation programs? Why are governments passing special laws about who can be blamed if something goes wrong?

"From the insurance industry's point of view, the Y2K numbers game is one they don't want to play. It seems the risks are just too scary for them," Morris says.


Industry analysts IDC Australia and the Gartner Group both say the good news is that more than 95 per cent of big companies will have their business-critical computer systems compliant in time for the big day.

"Those who are still lagging have been prioritising their work since the beginning of the year," Morris says, "and those systems that are not yet complete will not be business critical." additionally, Australia's long annual leave entitlements mean manufacturing will be at a standstill for weeks after January 1, allowing last-minute patches to be applied with negligible loss to production. And IDC figures indicate a further 60 per cent of large companies will have contingency plans in place in case something goes wrong.

"If it's critical to survival, most Australian, US and New Zealand businesses will have addressed the issue," says Graham Penn, IDC's research manager.

"Most highly dependent organisations will have alternative suppliers, at least as the first line option." so what is the bad news? Depending on which research company you ask, up to 20 per cent of all these finished Y2K fixes won't work on the day. IDC also believes many contingency plans may be in jeopardy because they are dependent on a supplier's Y2K fixes. For example, if your courier company's booking system fails, a contingency plan could be to use an alternative courier. But if couriers are suddenly swamped with work, if there are problems with the phone system, traffic system or fuel supply - or a combination of these - your contingency plans could be in trouble. So what is the cost of buying, and possibly soon selling, your own truck as opposed to the risk of Y2K courier failures, given their business is completely computerised and date-driven? It's impossible to say for sure, but the numbers don't look good. Both Gartner and IDC claim up to 35 per cent of small-to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) - and many courier companies fall into this category - have done very little to fix their Y2K problems.

Add to this the expected Y2K fix failure rate and it would be reasonable to expect up to 25 per cent of all businesses could be struggling with show-stopping computer problems early next year.


But things may not be as bad as they seem. For the majority of companies which have diligently tried to fix their Y2K-stricken systems, failures on the day could be overcome fast. As it turns out, it is much easier to fix where programmers have been before than it is to come up with instant solutions to problems never previously encountered. Morris is even optimistic about the anticipated Asia-wide telecommunications blackout.

"We expect that in general, 90 per cent of Y2K-related failures in mission-critical systems will be rectified within 72 hours," he says. "So we do not expect the impact on Australian traders to be severe."

If fixes which need fixing aren't failures, how good is your company's Y2K remediation - even the quality of its faulty fixes? The answer may depend on your Y2K project team's external auditors. However, IDC believes less than 30 per cent of all Y2K projects are being externally audited, with the quality of reporting by project leaders in those that aren't, proving to be "highly variable".

THE COMPLIANCE MYTH So to a large extent we may be deceiving ourselves by using an artificial language of certainty around the outcomes of complex systems redevelopments, which are anything but certain. As the day approaches, the absolute terms of "Y2K compliant" and "Y2K fix" may seem to be born of the same optimism which got us into this mess to start with; where programmers believed systems would be rewritten faster than they actually were.

"Risk of failure or impact of failure are better metrics," Morris says. "For example, there are some industries and geographies which have low compliance but the impact will be minimal." compliance or non-compliance - that is not the question.

Although the terms are endorsed by government agencies and industry bodies, they can be meaningless in relation to business continuity. Penn blames the media for many of the binary attitudes prevalent towards the Y2K problem.

"The media like to present this in black and white, whereas there must be a significant degree of uncertainty," he says. "Particularly for organisations which have overseas links to places like Asia or South America."

THE DAY AFTER even the expectation of everything going wrong on January 1 turns out to be a bit of an over-simplification - this is where problems only start to occur. Evidence is emerging that many Y2K defects will be discovered later in the year. For example, errors in code overseeing a quarterly pager service's billing cycle may first manifest when customers are automatically disconnected from services sometime in March due to faulty accounts-receivable code on invoices issued on january 30.

"Exhaustive testing is a key part of the program of many organisations," penn says, "but there are many dependencies, not all of which can be tested. there will be some fixing as we go. But the critical organisations in Australia are not likely to experience a devastating blow." of course, Y2K problems could be faced by customers at the end of long supply chains weeks after the original failure at a primary supplier took place. and extra safety stock held by customers could delay the impact of such shortages even further. But Morris warns against management pressuring IT staff to supply half-baked solutions early next year to quickly patch breaking supply chains.

"Y2K errors will continue to occur during all of 2000," he says, "as key dates and untested modules of code go into production. On the day, there is also a high risk that rushed fixes to Y2K failures will in themselves cause further outages." so the smart money is building up safety stocks to handle lumpy supply chains. prudent managers are planning to maintain high levels of essential supplies throughout the first half of next year, until their entire supply chain has been through several reordering cycles. mANUAL OVERRIDES not everyone takes business continuity so seriously. Many are living under the common misconception that if supposed Y2K glitches really happen, the authorities will simply switch systems over to manual control and employ more people to make up the difference. Of course, society has become too dependent on computers for this to happen in a reasonable time. take our metropolitan water supplies, for example, upon which oil refining and telecommunications rely, not to mention our thirst. Virtually every pump, valve and electric motor is controlled by one or more microchips, called embedded controllers. The water supply for a Melbourne-or Sydney-sized city may have 30,000 of these, which over time has replaced hundreds of manual operators. Now it takes less than 30 people to control everything, 24 hours a day. Of these, only a handful of top engineers would know how to run the entire system under manual control again. Therefore, these days, only localised problems can be effectively remedied using manual overrides. System-wide computer failures require the computers themselves to be fixed. IT is now as much a part of the system as are the pipes. likewise today's market couldn't bear the cost of many modern goods and services were it not for economies delivered under computer control. For example, the delivery of fuel from the sea floor to the refinery, to your company vehicles, could be governed by more than 15,000 microchips. Hopefully, all of these have been checked for Y2K defects.

In many industries, even safety overrides are computer-controlled. There's just no going back to the '70s.


Despite all this, by world standards, Australia is comparatively well placed to weather the Y2K storm. Even at the close of the century, there is still enough tyranny of distance to have endowed us with reasonable self-sufficiency. And the billions we've spent on Y2K remediation will pay off - if not on the day, then certainly during the first months to follow. But other countries are not so fortunate. One Y2K contingency planner for a large international energy company recently predicted Y2K-induced chaos in countries already facing internal difficulties - such as Indonesia and Russia. and according to a report by the Paris-based International Energy Commission (IEC), ships and ports based in Third World countries could be stricken with problems next year, slowing down "compliant" fuel-carrying vessels. Yes, ships too have become completely dependent on the computing power supplied by embedded controllers, particularly container vessels. And the microchips used in marine applications seem to have significantly higher date-related defect rates than others. meanwhile, in the United States, Senate hearings have heard more than 40 per cent of crude imports could be disrupted next year. Some parts of the oil supply chain in Africa, South America and the Middle East are more than a year behind in their remediation efforts. the IEC also cited industry-based claims of a looming Y2K-induced energy crisis in China and severe difficulties in the former Soviet Union, which supplies much of Europe's winter requirements. but of major concern to Australia is the Y2K readiness of Japan, having systems based on everything from high-tech robotics to ancient manual traditions. although our Y2K project leaders have often found their Japanese partners reluctant to even discuss the issue, Morris believes the ice is finally melting.

"Japan has until recently been very guarded about their Y2K status," he says. "But since the second quarter of this year we have felt much more comfortable about their level of preparation in large companies. However, like the rest of the planet, their SME sector is lagging."


No-one knows for certain what will happen next year. At best we can make informed guesses. For example, in developing countries, Y2K shipping bottlenecks, communications breakdowns and economic downturns could threaten the fragile democracies of Eastern Europe and South-East Asia. so apart from facing our own difficulties, we might have to adjust to further asian destabilisation, possibly adding a refugee problem to our escalating aid and military commitment. however, even in a worse case scenario, Y2K may contain a silver lining for australia in 2001. Our remediation efforts are as advanced as any but our industrial base isn't as digitally integrated as that of overseas mass-market manufacturers. this means if things are tougher than expected, we could be back on our feet sooner. We're also self-sufficient in fuel. so overall, Australia will be one of the first nations up and running if Y2K causes upheavals, making us a magnet for overseas capital looking for a safe harbour. But will Y2K be really such a problem? In a little over nine weeks we'll start finding out.

-- Old Git (, October 29, 1999


Are there Aussies coming here who can fill us in on the prep-scene there? We tend to be very U.S.-centric here. What issues are you grappling with, both personally and with respect to your community?

-- BigDog (, October 29, 1999.

Hello OG and BD. This article first appeared in my local rag - The Age - and I didn't think it was that thoughtful. The first paragraph is pure polly bs, and though there are incitieful bits later on, the penny just doesn't seem to drop for these journalist people. "Really really important things will probably stop working, but there will be no problems." Duh.

As for preparations in Australia, I'm not sure there even is a prep scene. There's probably enough general awareness, so the last minute prep rush will still be something, but for some reason y2k isn't big over here. Firstly, we don't have anything like the organised "resistance" (for want of a better word) to TPTB that Usa has, patriots etc. Sure we have disaffected worldly-wise politically awake people, but culturally they just ain't into roughing it in the woods and shooting things. They only sub-culture I can think of which is emotionally and conceptually prepared for anything like teotwawki are hardcore environmentalists. I don't know the extent to which such people are preparing for y2k, I'm not much of a networker. I don't know of the extent to which greenies are even aware of y2k, and from what I've seen of them they're probably more likely to jump up and down about it, rather than go all out to cover their own asses. There'd have to be at least a few geeks who get it, but the ones I know are fairly dismissive.

As for prep issues I'm personally grappling with, well I'm trying to work out if I'm basically prepared to die heroically by stalking (:~)) my sortofgirlfriend to the USA and doing what little I could to help her out. If she were to stay in Boulder then she'd be ok, but she wants to go to Boston for New Years. I explained to her just why this wasn't the time for "That Girl" impersonations, but she's not in the habit of listening to me anyhow. Plus she doesn't seem to like me much anymore because I've been so y2k fixated, and she only seems to love me grudgingly. But still, it would be an opportunity to be romantic and foolhardy to the nth degree, and that has some appeal.

-- number six (, October 31, 1999.

Hi, No. 6,

I used "thoughtful" because that's what it is compared to the vast majority of Y2K items in the US media. Unfortunately, most of the stuff broadcast or printed is straight from PR releases from various entities.

Regarding those doing any Y2K preparation in the US: I've seen various numbers bandied about but no more than 3 percent of the population. I think perhaps Australians, in general, tend to trust their government more than Americans do. I'm not into roughing it in the woods and shooting things either (unless somebody tries to steal my stuff) and that's why I'm doing my best to prepare for Y2K and any other possible disaster that might come along. (I'm in North Carolina and I'm sure you've read about the recent flooding problems east of here--underlines the necessity to be prepared.)

I don't usually give advice about people's love lives, but you DID mention it--I'd suggest you stay where you are. Better the devil you know. . . If your girlfriend is resistant to Y2K preps and precautions, then she won't appreciate you coming over here to "take care" of her.

and foolhardy to the nth degree, and that has some appeal.

-- number six (, October 31, 1999.

-- Old Git (, October 31, 1999.

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