Everyone knew Emu was going to be a jungle, but lemmmings, ostrichs, cheetahs, giraffes and gorillas? Seems an entire euro zoo is rampaging through the UK economy - so just what's going on and what are IT heads and companies doing to ensure UK Plc avoids the trail of banana skins?
With the UK not being one of the 11 European countries in the first wave of the euro, companies outside the finance sector have been left wondering when to start preparing systems in earnest for multi-currency operations.
Many companies and industry bodies are saying that the UK should not enter until the time is right, some say never. Opinion is divided as to when to commit resources to the conversion process and just how much is required.
Bigger companies are understandably alarmed at the prospect of spending millions re-engineering their systems only to find that the UK does not enter. Alternatively, they dread being caught with their trousers down, struggling against the clock and spiraling salary demands.
One recent report, based on a Treasury working paper, caused more jitters by suggesting the gap between the UK announcing its intention to join and locking interest rates could be a little as eight months.
Yet the Institute of Directors (IoD) stands against monetary union, at least until economic conditions are right to join and even today maintains it would be a big mistake to assume it is a foregone conclusion. The Confederation of British Industry takes the same view while the Federation of Small Businesses is opposed to entry at any time.
This leaves companies and in particular IT directors, no clearer on timetables for being euro ready. IoD director, Tim Melville-Ross, warned most UK companies against committing IT spend on the euro until a referendum proves beyond all doubt that the UK is to join.
"If it does go through, there will be plenty of time to prepare for it. You don't have a referendum and then the following week join the euro," said Melville-Ross, who accused some IT consultancies of 'hard-selling' the euro to British business.
"To go to an enormous effort and expense to adapt systems to cope with a euro that may never happen is a waste of resources," concluded the IoD director, maintaining most companies need go little further than planning IT investment for the eventuality.
But the europhiles, like former Tory Science and Technology minister Ian Taylor, himself an IoD fellow, take a more proactive view. He said: "The IoD is being irresponsible," claiming that such an approach "instills complacency."
"It's true to say you don't need to switch your software systems unless you're hyper-sensitive to the advent of notes and coins on Day One, but you will need to start thinking of these things before. Many companies in this country will find the euro is their base currency well before they've joined," he noted.
This point is echoed by Computer Software and Services Association banking and finance group chairman, Charles Brewer.
"Even if we vote no, by 2002 we could well find 30 per cent to 60 per cent of the economy in euros. It's the business realities which matter. Don't even worry about the political questions. I don't think it's relevant," he said. "If you're predicating expenditure on certainty, which is what some people seem to be asking for, you're asking for the date and result of the next election and the referendum. Nobody spends money on that basis," he added.
As with Y2K, it is supply chain issues that rear their heads again. As Brewer notes, you may have little choice to deal in euros if your trading partners want you to.
"You have to look at your supply chain. It's who you do business with, not what business you're in. When does the biggest gorilla in the forest watch the Saturday night movie?" asked Brewer, "The answer is any time he likes."
Brewer was explaining the origins of the 'euro gorilla', a term possibly destined to send shivers up the spines of many an IT head in the next few months and years.
"The point is, when do you start using the euro? When the euro gorilla in your supply chain says so. It takes away the question. If they're really helpful they'll also tell you the format of invoices, the kind of payments and lots of other useful stuff," said Brewer.
Not that euro gorilla is the only animal analogy in use. Consultants Cap Gemini has coined its own terms to describe different approaches to the euro - the Lemmich and the Cheeraffe, both of which are supposedly alive and well in the UK economy today. The former type of company, a cross between a lemming and an ostrich, sticks its head in the ground until it's too late and can then only hurl itself off a cliff. The latter uses it's long neck and speed to get ahead of the game.
Marks & Spencers is one example of a company showing just such Cheeraffe tendencies by implementing multi-currency tills as part of a complete replacement programme, minimising euro conversion costs. There are plenty of examples of Lemmichs, but they will become more obvious as the deadline approaches.
However, management consultants are warning that delayed Emu entry is no great boon for UK companies and that blaming your company's poor euro preparations on political confusion in the UK will not be any protection from the consequences.
Tony Blair may have decided that UK entry will not come until a referendum takes place after the next election, but an election could conceivably happen in 2001 or even earlier, with campaigning rolling the referendum into a back-me-or-sack-me vote on the euro.
Based on current public opinion, a pro-Europe government is certain to get in and speedily embrace the euro, setting the cat firmly amongst the Lemmichs.
Some consultants even argue that entry into the retail market could happen at the same time as the rest of Europe, with a Big Bang after 2002. Their argument is based on the idea that wholesale entry then retail entry a few years later would cause more asymmetric shocks across the whole economy than a single changeover.
This could mean a much faster, greater burden on IT systems to be compliant with the euro than companies are currently expecting.
The dilemma is clearly delaying the decisions of many companies. A Deloitte consulting survey out last month found that 36 per cent of UK equity analysts are not comfortable with the ability of most companies in their sector to deal with the euro, while 72 per cent of UK analysts say companies have not resolved the IT challenges of Emu.
Deloitte partner, Hans Christian Iverson, said: "Analysts are clear that the medium and long term benefits of being 'in' [Euroland] are substantial, but they are clearly saying the UK companies have not resolved or do not know how to resolve a number of strategic, IT and organisational issues that will allow them to benefit from the euro."
The expert consensus seems pretty clear: don't watch the political animals - if you want to survive in the euro jungle, run with the Cheeraffe's.
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