TORONTO STAR: "Y2K experts are flushed with pride" : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

And "pride goeth before a fall"... January 4, 2000

Y2K experts are flushed with pride
After all the hype, extent of updating questioned

[PHOTO]PETER DE JAGER: Y2K expert says programmers should be thanked.

By Robert Cribb
Toronto Star Technology Reporter

It's been a Y2KO.

With dramatic threats of millennium-bug chaos pounded to a pulp in the days following New Year's Eve 2000, the computer code warriors charged with averting Y2K disaster are pumped with pride - and perhaps a tinge of embarrassment.

``When everything went okay at midnight, the mood was a bit ho-hum,'' said Frank Switzer, a spokesperson for Canada's securities regulators, with a trace of defensiveness.

``I can't say there was any sense of relief (at midnight 2000) because people were confident things would go well. By the end of the day, people were bored of hanging around.''

In fact, the Ontario Securities Commission reduced its Y2K staff numbers over the past couple of days, convinced markets will be up and running smoothly today, Switzer said.

While there are still some crucial tests before final victory over the Y2K problem is declared, evidence from around the world is overwhelming - the much-hyped stories of falling airplanes, failing electronic systems and crippled financial systems will not come to pass.

U.S., European and Asian stock exchanges, which opened yesterday, were snafu-free. Stock markets from Frankfurt to Milan to Helsinki all shot up in a collective sigh of relief that came with the uneventful Y2K calendar flip.

The rosy news led to questions about whether the millions of hours of re-programming and a $300 billion (U.S.) Y2K price tag - worth $433 billion (Canadian), including about $20 billion spent in Canada - were necessary.

Industry insiders say Y2K-generated hysteria gave consultants and technology departments virtually unlimited budgets to replace entire networks with expensive new equipment instead of repairing older systems.

However, Peter de Jager, a Brampton-based Y2K expert who was one of the first to sound the millennial alarm several years ago, countered the critics. He said criticizing programmers and information technology departments for ringing up big Y2K bills fails to recognize their momentous achievement.

``Their goal was to make sure nothing happened and now they're getting criticized because nothing happened. This was a heroic deed that programmers pulled off and rather than being thanked, they're being lambasted.''

The Bank of Montreal budgeted $350 million to guard its computer systems against Y2K snafus, but a bank official said the overhaul had many ancillary benefits.

Not only did the network improve early from upgrades it would have needed down the road, but employees became much more computer savvy as a result, Denny Allen said.

``The capacity on the system for things like debit and credit is increasing by leaps and bounds, so we certainly would have had to upgrade and update all of the codes anyway,'' she said.

The spectre of Y2K was a good excuse to install state-of-the-art software early - which makes the bank's cost breakdown complex, she added.

``It was for many companies a chance to upgrade their systems and part of that large capital outlay came from that,'' said Brahm Eiley of The Convergence Consulting Group.

``Some companies and countries chose to do it more cheaply. And at the end of the day it's just a calendar change. There was a legitimate technical problem here, but this thing was really over-hyped.''

Countries such as Italy and Russia, which bucked the Western trend of investing heavily in Y2K preparations, remained fully functioning over the weekend.

``There's no doubt we were surprised at a number of countries that started late and really didn't have the cash resources, and yet their infrastructure remained operational,'' said Gaylen Duncan, president of the Information Technology Association of Canada.

`It will take at least a month of regular business before we can say this is over'

``It's like life insurance. You pay your premium and hope you don't collect. Did we pay the right premium? I don't know there's any way of analyzing it.''

But if Canadian industry and government had not started early and dug deep into the coffers, these days following midnight, Jan. 1, would have been much different, he insists.

``You and I wouldn't be talking on the telephone, I wouldn't have a son on the Internet today, I'd be burning candles in my house, I would have a problem with water and every store that I just visited may not have had a working cash register.''

While countries such as Russia, widely expected to become a Y2K basket case, have exhibited surprising resilience, it is not directly comparable to Canada, said Jordan Worth, a technology analyst with International Data Corp. (Canada).

``As opposed to Russia, much more of the basic underlying infrastructure in urban areas is computerized here. There's much more of a hazard to be addressed.''

The lack of incident in Canada had those on the front lines of the Y2K effort preening.

``We've been working all this time to go through this event,'' said Mike Feldstein, the executive in charge of Y2K operations for Bell Canada, which reported only minor phone congestion in Toronto and Montreal for about 30 minutes following midnight.

``When it works out this way, you feel pretty good about it. We did a very diligent job and had every reason to believe everything was going to be fine.''

Telecommunications lines were largely unaffected thanks to Y2K-compliant equipment from manufacturers such as Canada's Nortel Networks Corp., which supplies switching systems to telephone companies.

Nortel, which has spent $225 million on Y2K efforts since 1996, reported no equipment failures following the big calendar flip, said Paul Goyette, a company spokesperson.

``We're pleased with the results. Everything we've implemented and worked on with assisting our customers was well handled.''

You are not, however, finished hearing about Y2K, experts say. Today will be a big test as computers in government and corporate offices go into action for the first time since New Year's Eve. And Feb. 29, a leap-year date, looms as the next challenge to programmers who fear computer networks could again be confused.

``Canadians have yet to receive a pay cheque or credit card bill this year,'' de Jager said. ``It will take at least a month of regular business before we can say this is over. Until all of this happens successfully, it's premature to suggest we're through this.''

With files from Canadian Press


-- John Whitley (, January 04, 2000

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