Australian IT

No apology needed for Y2K spend
      By Australian IT editor IAN GRAYSON

THERE have been some very angry people in the IT industry during the past 10 days.

Ever since it became clear that the lights were still on and planes were still flying after midnight on New Year's Eve, IT professionals have been copping a great deal of flak.

Far from receiving praise for their planning and hard work, Y2K managers suddenly found themselves called upon to justify spending as much money as they did in the process of bug-proofing company systems and equipment.

Many commentators rushed to the conclusion that the Y2K bug had been nothing more than an elaborate con-job, engineered by the IT industry to boost sales. They argued that IT experts should have been able to foresee the lack of problems years ago and reduce their remediation budgets accordingly.

Such comments show an alarming lack of understanding of technology and the integral role it plays in today's world.

It is an undeniable fact that the Y2K bug existed. Any systems that recorded years using two digits rather than four was at risk.

What was not clear was the extent to which the bug would lead to problems. To understand this, organisations had no choice but to check and test their systems. To ignore the risk would have been irresponsible.

The fact there have been relatively few problems so far this year is directly due to this work.

Many companies have confirmed that, had they not undertaken comprehensive Y2K programs, their operations would have been seriously affected.

To point to less developed nations, which also have reported few Y2K problems, as evidence that the bug was a phantom is another flawed argument.

Such countries have nothing like the dependence on technology that is common in the Western world. Also, developing nations are not so reliant on older, legacy computer systems.

Such systems still underpin much of the activity in sectors such as banking and finance, and these consumed a considerable proportion of Y2K budgets in many large companies.

The other serious problem with the con-job argument is that Y2K is far from being over.

The issue was never going to be a one-minute-past-midnight affair, and will be part of the IT and business landscape well into 2000.

A range of experts, including Bill Gates and US programmer Bob Bemer, have predicted numerous problems will continue to occur for months. Nothing that has happened during the past 10 days indicates they are wrong.

The critics of the size of Y2K budgets also fail to recognise the other benefits that have come from the entire exercise: better IT infrastructures, comprehensive disaster recovery plans and better lines of communication between the computer room and the boardroom.

The IT industry has nothing to explain. Y2K presented a major challenge that was accepted and overcome.

The new challenge is to continue the vigilance.

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