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You, Your Company and the Millennium Bug!

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Bang Goes the Millennium
The Good News - Bad News about Computers and Y2K Compliance

What equipment may be affected: Computers | Software | Computer Data | Embedded Systems (Alarms, photocopiers, fax machines, etc.) | The Human Element
The Major Problems: August 22, 1999 | September 9, 1999 | January 1, 2000 | February 29, 2000 | Year 2020 | Year 2038
Legal & Insurance Implications
The Solution
Useful Y2K links (including training)
The Millennium Bug is a problem that will be encountered worldwide by some electronic equipment and computers not only at the turn of the century but on at least two dates prior to December 31, 1999 and dates in 2000, 2020 and 2038. Some companies may be already experiencing problems, for others the first problems might be with stock deliveries on or after August 22, 1999. Another misconception is that your business is Year 2000 Compliant if you have had your computer upgraded or if your business is not computer reliant. This is not the case, there are many other points to be looked at in making your business 2000 Compliant. At present it is possible to contract a Y2K consultant for as little as £250 a day, which is already a considerable expense for a small business to find, but from June onwards this is likely to be over £1000 a day and rising! I have heard some computer specialists are charging now £250 an HOUR and envisage this going to over £1000 an HOUR nearer the date!!!! Of course, the nearer the deadline the less time there will be to complete all the procedures necessary for making your company Year 2000 Compliant

There are serious implications for businesses, large and small. Many government departments, large companies and organizations have already been through their Year 2000 Compliance Procedures, as part of this they will no longer be ordering from suppliers that are not Year 2000 Compliant. Many banks and financial institutions are calling in loans and refusing new loans to businesses that cannot prove they comply. Estimates vary of likely damage to Small and Medium Sized Enterprises some suggest that 11 per cent of such concerns may close as a result of problems with the Y2K, other estimates go as far as suggesting this figure may be more in the region of 38 per cent.
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What equipment may be affected

Most people are aware some PCs may be affected by the Millennium Bug, many though are unaware that computers which are non Year 2000 Compliant are still on sale! Many computers can be adjusted through a software patch at the BIOS level to recognize Year 2000. However, there are some computers where the RTC (Real Time Clock), which gives the date reference to the BIOS which in turn passes it on to software for date reliant operations, will not recognize the two digit year '00' as a valid year date and will cause the computer to freeze. Your computers need to be tested to see whether they will work after December 31, 1999 and whether they will recognize 2000 as a leap year. DO NOT TEST BY RUNNING YOUR BIOS FORWARD - if it does not recognize Year 2000 your computer could freeze and YOU MAY NOT BE ABLE TO TURN IT BACK. Some computers which appear to recognize the year 2000 may not be recognizing the 2-digit century dates of '19' or '20' as incremental numbers, there are tests that can determine whether or not this is happening. For more details of what is involved in testing and fixing computers see article 'Good News - Bad News about Computers and Y2K Compliance'

Bespoke software (that designed specifically for a company or profession/trade) may use unusual source codes for the date - these need to be checked.

Some bespoke software also uses 9 9 999 as an 'end file' reference which could cause problems on September 9, 1999.

Older 'off the shelf' software may not be compliant making it necessary for updating or new versions to be bought. Proof will be needed that all software is Y2K compliant.

Computer Data
The data produced on computers will all need to be updated that includes all date reliant data contained in spreadsheets and accounts. Because of the algorithms used by many programmes to recognize year 2000 dates the only safe way of updating data is to use a 4-digit year number. Algorithms are used by some spread sheet programmes and use the formula 'if the 2-digit year date is in the range 00-20 the year is 20XX, where the 2-digit year date is 21-99 the year is 19XX'. Similar algorithms are used in many of the BIOS software 'fixes' that are currently available, however a problem with fixes that rely on inference algorithms is that there is no standard 'year break' when the recognition will take place, some use the range 00-20/21-99 others use 00-50/51-99. While providing a short term solution if operators continue to use the 2-digit year when recording data, for industries projecting over long terms (mortgates, pensions, farming, forestry are a few that come to mind) inference algorithms are not a solution. The only solution is to ensure that all data is entered with a 4-digit year.

Embedded Systems
These are the timing mechanisms installed in such equipment as fire and intruder alarms, central heating systems, some refrigeration systems, ovens, microwaves, facsimile machines, photocopiers, franking machines, video machines and other equipment. The 'chips' installed in these machines while perhaps only using the second/minute/hour/day facility for timing the functions of the particular equipment they are installed in, nearly all have the facility for counting the year. While in the machine the year counter chugs happily away unused but reckoning up the count as it goes. Unfortunately, some of these chips will fail to recognize the '00' as a valid year date and will stop, others may recognize this is just another year, but will fail to recognize that it is a leap year which will cause problems with date reliant operations, i.e. central heating, alarm systems or time locks may be turned off or on inappropriately because of inaccurate date information.

The Human Element
Operators and Users of computer systems in the UK who are taught word processing and business skills in schools, colleges and from private training providers have to pass examinations to qualify (RSA and CLAIT are two of the most popular). Unfortunately, at present NO training provider can be Year 2000 Compliant as the standards REQUIRED to be taught to pass approved examinations are that data input into spreadsheets and data bases be on the formula ddmmyy - that is the 2-digit year. To be Year 2000 Compliant it will be necessary for companies to show that they have made relevant staff aware of the problem and that data input will be to Year 2000 standards (using the 4-digit year entry i.e. ddmmyyyy). While companies may appreciate they will have to retrain currently employed staff, how many will understand that newly qualified staff coming out of college today will also need a skills update?
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What are the major problems

The 'Millennium Bug' hype appears to suggest there is only one problem - the century date change on computers - but there are several other dates that need to be considered as well:

August 22, 1999 - this is the date of reset for the GPS (Global Positioning System) - there may be problems here for transport such as planes and ships that use GPS as a navigation aid, but any transport, such as lorries, which use tachygraphs also use GPS. The implications are that deliveries of many utilities and commodities may well be affected possibly causing difficulties for any business using items which are brought in from off site or which they need to deliver off site.

September 9, 1999 - the code 9 9 99 has been used by computer programmers for indicating end of file and action to be taken - perhaps pre-programmed action could be 'delete last 200 entries'!. Companies using 'bespoke' software, that is software specially designed for them or their trade/profession, need to be aware of this and test for it, most off-the-shelf software currently available is likely to be OK.

January 1, 2000 - the day of the 'Millennium Bug', non compliant PCs and mainframe computers are likely to be affected, together with embedded systems in equipment using microchips for timing/dating purposes such as: facsimile machines, telephones, fire alarms, intruder alarms, photocopiers, microwave ovens, electric/electronic ovens, central heating and air conditioning systems, refrigerators and freezers, lifts and escalators. Some computers can be dealt with by a software fix, others will need to be replaced, all date reliant data will have to be corrected. Microchips in embedded systems if not compliant will mostly need to be replaced.

February 29, 2000
Many computers and embedded systems that recognize the initial century roll over date may not recognize that 2000 is a leap year and should be tested for this and fixed where possible. Non recognition of the leap year could disrupt date reliant actions and data.

Year date 2020
On computers using Excel the algorithm used for recognizing century dates is: any 2-digit year ending in 00-20 will be treated as a Year 2000 date, 2-digit year dates ending in 21-99 will be treated as a 1900 year date. For companies or organizations using 15, 20, 25 year or longer plans this could cause problems, but there are strategies for overcoming this.

Year date 2038
Unix platform users will have no problem with the century roll over as the Unix system does not reset until 2038 at which time measures will have to be taken.
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Legal & Insurance Implications

Many insurance companies have already informed policy holders that they are not covered for problems resulting from the Year 2000 roll over, although some consequential loss or damage may be covered - it is necessary for companies to check with insurance companies regarding their cover.

Legal implications are that if as a result of non adherence to Year 2000 Compliance a company breaks a contract through non delivery, breakdown or any other Year 2000 problem which it lay within their power to deal with they will be liable.

The only defence that may be legally acceptable is where a company can show that they carried out a Year 2000 Compliance programme 'with due diligence'. 'Due Diligence' will need to be proved by documented audited evidence of all measures taken - including contingency plans.
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The solution is to undertake Year 2000 Compliance, this consists of:
Assessing the Risk to your company, and once risk and prioties established
Set up a programme of Management to oversee all Y2K compliance procedures
Testing, Fixing and testing of fixes for PCs, testing and upgrading software and testing data and updating where necessary.
All other electronic equipment and processes likely to be affected should also be tested.
You will need to show proof you have asked:
All stock suppliers whether they are Year 2000 Compliant, and
that you have contacted the manufacturers/suppliers of any electronic equipment you use to ascertain whether it is Year 2000 compliant;
and if any equipment was not Y2K compliant that you have taken appropriate steps to upgrade.
You will also need to show proof that you have set up contingency plans in case of failure of any systems or processes which might be at risk.
All Y2K compliance procedures will need to be fully documented in order to show due diligence.
Once these measures have been implemented audited confirmation of compliance will need to be obtained.
Ieke van Stokkum
Member, Association of Internet Professionals
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Useful Y2K links

UK Government sponsors training for Y2K

The UK government has announced that £26 million pounds will be used to sponsor training schemes being made available to small businesses in England which wish staff to learn how to assess, manage and fix their IT equipment and software. The training courses are free to qualifying companies (under 250 employees and not IT consultants are the main criteria) through Business TECs (Training and Enterprise Councils) and other training organizations. There is a link on this site to the UK Government Press Release announcing the courses. Details on the training courses available may be obtained from the Action 2000 Helpline on 0845 601 2000 or got to the Action 2000 site at: Although these training courses were due to finish by the start of the new financial year (April 5), I believe there is talk that they will be continued if there is the demand.

Locally in Dorset from Dorset TEC, 25 Oxford Road, Bournemouth, Dorset BH8 8EY Tel: 01202 680722, Fax: 01202 680741, e-mail:
For Dorset companies wishing to make General Year 2000 inquiries - call your local Business Link on 0345 567 765.
Further information on Y2K problems may be found at:
The National Training Organisation for Information Technology -
There are numerous articles about the Year 2000 implications on the Internet and more links will be added here from time to time.
There is a very useful site at , Mitre appear to have thought of most things including test and fix programmes to suit all computer users. They have a very informative page which lists out all the problems that might be encountered.
There are also some interesting articles being issued by Netcentre Netsavers in the Software Newsletter - this is free and you can subscribe to it by e-mailing
See also: Article by Craig Stevens of Sutton Designs
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