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Thursday, 30 December, 1999, 20:53 GMT
Business braced for Y2K bug

City of London City banks spent 1bn on Y2K preparations

By BBC News Online's Orla Ryan

Many businesses say the millennium bug is a problem solved.

While scaremongers once warned of a complete breakdown of society, millions of pounds later, they say that 1 January 2000 will be a day like any other.

But already, their confidence is beginning to crack, as problems start to emerge.

Retailers have already experienced problems. Data from card swipe machines is stored on a central computer, which covers a four-day period. Since 28 December, many machines have refused to process credit and debit transactions.

Many airlines have cut New Year's Eve flights, though they claim this is due to lack of demand rather than the millennium bug.

But even if the rest of UK plc turns out to be prepared, its confidence may yet be tested by non-compliant systems in other countries.

Battling the bug

The millennium bug is the name given to problems caused by hardware and software that use the last two digits of the year rather than all four. The problem arises if computers stop working when they wrongly identify the year 2000 as 1900.

In battling the bug, policy makers can at least claim one victory. Most people are calm about the bug and the feared hysteria has so far failed to emerge.

People may yet jump to the wrong conclusion if something doesn't run smoothly. "You could see the sort of minor problems you do get anytime. It will be business as usual, which doesn't mean perfect business," a spokesman for the Financial Services Authority said.

'It'll be alright on the night'

The UK bugbusters whose job it has been to make sure all computer systems are prepared, are confident that the task has largely been achieved.

Action 2000 boasts that of 10,000 organisations surveyed, only 17 of them had not been given the total all clear by October. All were expected to have the all clear by December.

factory Many factories have checked their suppliers' systems as well
"Most major businesses have done a lot of work in preparation for the date change and most will say they are prepared," Dr Fiona Underwood, responsible for the Confederation of British Industry's Y2K strategy, said.

"People can expect the odd glitch but it will be nothing major," she added.

It will be business as usual which doesn't mean perfect business
FSA spokesman
Many have worked with their smaller suppliers to ensure the supply route is intact. But some smaller companies mightn't have completed the work they need to do, the CBI's Dr Underwood admitted.

When will the bug bite?

When most people are only getting ready their New Year's Eve parties, bugbusters will already be checking computers.

cash cards Banks say cashpoints will work on 1 January
New Zealand is the first country to see the date change and at about 1100 GMT on New Year's Eve, the Financial Services Authority (FSA) will begin monitoring the effects of the bug on British banks.

Lloyds TSB will be one of the first to see the effects as it owns one of New Zealand's biggest banks, National Bank of New Zealand. HSBC Holdings and Standard Chartered would be the next, with large operations throughout Southeast Asia and Hong Kong.

Banks will test their systems over the New Year's weekend but the real test occurs when Britain goes back to work on 4 January.

Delayed reaction

Even then, it may be premature to breathe a sigh of relief.

"It is possible things won't emerge for a week or two. Say a bank had a problem with generating accurate bank statements, that might not emerge until half way through January," the FSA spokesman said.

Later in the year, problems may emerge related to the bug. "The focus is on the millennium. Our concern is that if people take their eye off the ball, they are going to get hit somewhere down the line," Patrick Moore, director of BSC Consulting said.

His thesis is that very few programmers have had time to test how mainframes will work throughout the millennium year, not just on 1 January. "People have done a tremendous amount of work, (but) until everything has been fully tested, you can't be sure," he said.

The price of the bug

The cost to UK business of preparing for the bug has yet to be fully established.

Estimates suggest banks between them have spent 1bn on preparing for the bug, while many individual companies have spent millions on preparing and testing their systems.

In one survey, IT services group Gartner Group found that larger companies earmarked at least 44% of their IT budgets for Y2K preparations this year.

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See also:
29 Dec 99 |  Business
Millennium bug hits retailers
13 Oct 99 |  The Economy
Banks 'ready for millennium'
03 Aug 99 |  The Economy
Small firms ignore Millennium Bug
21 Aug 99 |  Business
Bosses warned of millennium legal threat
30 Jun 99 |  Business
Curbs set for Y2K bug lawsuits
21 Jan 99 |  The Company File
Utilities 'heading for bug-free 2000'
07 Jan 99 |  The Company File
Millennium bugs bank
30 Jul 99 |  The Economy
Why two bug busters battle...
18 Sep 99 |  The Economy
Greenspan says US is Y2K ready

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