So just how ready are we for the big event? Is the UK doing all it can to be ready for the Year 2000 or is the country set for one hell of a hangover on 1 January? It's the $64,000 question.
According to Don Cruickshank, chairman of the UK government's Action 2000 taskforce, this is the wrong question to ask. "The truth is, no one really knows," he says, "I don't. You don't. It depends."
Cruickshank's view is that if governments, companies and organisations do all they can, then things should be alright on the night. It's a view shared by Year 2000 expert, Peter de Jager, although he is less optimistic than Cruickshank about just how much progress has been made so far.
"We are addressing this problem too late," says de Jager, "We will not fix every system on time, we will not even fix all the mission critical systems in time."
De Jager is also convinced that businesses will fail, directly because of the Year 2000 problem: "If business doesn't depend upon computers, why are companies using computers?"
De Jager, who is based in Canada, argues his views from a world perspective. Cruickshank's focus is closer to home. His responsibility has been to spread awareness of the problem amongst UK business and to offer help for businesses of all sizes in dealing with it.
He believes the UK is on course to beat the bug and he has evidence. Action 2000 conducted a review of 236 of the FTSE 500 companies and found eight in 10 of them were on course to complete their work in time.
Good news? Certainly, but it's not the spin that Taskforce 2000 boss Robin Guenier chose to put on a similar set of figures that were produced last month.
A survey of 1,000 top UK industrial and commercial companies, undertaken by Business Strategies for law firm Dibb Lupton Alsop, asked them to detail Year 2000 work undertaken and still in the planning stage.
The survey found that 16 per cent had not completed an inventory of their central IT - the essential first step in Year 2000 work and 23 per cent had not completed their inventories of distributed systems and PCs. Over 60 per cent of companies had not completed remediation work and 80 per cent of them had not completed implementation and testing.
Guenier believed he had found a damning reason to discredit the conclusions of Action 2000.
"I feared the results might be worse than those in a recent government survey, which indicated that the majority of big companies were on course," he said, "In fact, it is much worse."
This is fairly typical of the sort of antagonism that has arisen around the Y2K issue. The two survey's should not be directly compared, as the former asked major companies what they had done, the latter asked them what they expected to get done.
There is no contradiction between 80 per cent of companies admitting they have not completed remediation, testing and implementation work and 80 per cent of companies expecting to have completed the work by the deadline.
It may be implausible - how can they possibly get so much work completed in a few short months? - but it is not a contradiction.
Cruickshank's information is based on the work of the National Infrastructure Forum (NIF). This is a "programme of several interlinked parts" according to its website, which is not very helpful in understanding what it does.
In effect it is a loose grouping of regulatory bodies and interested parties that gathers information and meets up occasionally to assess how well those organisations that make up the essential infrastructure of the UK are dealing with the bug.
This is important enough since, to paraphrase the chairman of Boots speaking at his company's annual general meeting last year, "It's not much use making sure that our tills are working on 1 January if the shops don"t have any electricity."
The NIF currently covers water, oil, gas, electricity and telecomms along with some oversight of the financial sector. Last month, the NIF made its first statement to the public and the word was that in general, things were going pretty well for UK plc.
Further announcements will be made later this year about other key areas, including the health service, emergency services, food, transport, broadcasting, postal services, local government, justice, taxation, benefits, education and meteorological services.
Don Cruickshank, who fronted last month's meeting, said: "There is a significant number of key services that constitute the building blocks of the national infrastructure and which the public expects to operate normally, regardless of whether they are in public or private ownership."
"The goal is business as usual during the critical period. There is still a lot of work to be done before we can say this with full confidence, but I am clear that the NIF process is underway as an effective route to delivering the information that businesses and the public require," he concluded.
Sound words, but what do they mean?
As far as the core infrastructure is concerned, 90 per cent of the sector will be Year 2000 compliant by mid 1999, with the remaining 10 per cent achieving compliance by September. As for phone lines, 95 per cent of fixed lines will be millennium ready by the middle of this year with the remainder being ready by the end of September.
Telecomms regulator Oftel has been busy encouraging the telcos to exchange information and help each other. Not that it needed much help. Last year, BT made clear that it was willing to pool information and share in house developed Year 2000 tools with telcos at home and abroad. After all, even if BT fixes its own network, it stands to lose millions if subscribers cannot call numbers run by other providers.
As for the electricity supply, industry regulator Offer reports that the 20 or so major players in the sector, "have largely completed work to rectify critical systems but some tests to demonstrate full compliance remain outstanding."
It's a similar story with the gas, oil and financial sectors, but the surprising and slightly more disturbing thing in all these announcements is that nobody seems willing to talk about the problems they are having in pushing through the Year 2000 work.
De Jager holds firm to the conviction that it is impossible to push through these major software remediation projects without encountering failures, since all software projects involve some level of failure.
What's worrying him is that many companies and organisations around the world are now claiming to have done the remedial work, tested the systems and then implemented them - with very few of them seeming to experience any failure.
De Jager puts it simply, "Failure is evidence of effort". In other words no failure, no effort. Perhaps if anyone is contemplating a future survey of the year 2000 situation they should ask the following questions.
1) Out of the year 2000 projects completed, how many failed at first implementation?
2) What other failures have occurred?
No failures? Then the job has not been done.
** IT people are facing pressure on two fronts as they struggle to adapt IT systems to European Monetary Union and the Year 2000
Computing comes to the rescue in its 11 February issue with 24 pages of special Euro and Y2K coverage, including the latest advice, reviews and case studies **
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