We knocked the bastard off

Y2K may not have come in under budget, but it certainly came in on time. No disruptions, no disasters, no catastrophes and, best of all, no atomic insects roaming this quiet earth.

And still they’re
playing the damned cockroach ads on TV. Oh well, you can’t win them all, I suppose.

But win you did and even if noone else in the media is going to say it, I will — congratulations. Y2K may not have come in under budget, but it certainly came in on time. No disruptions, no disasters, no catastrophes and, best of all, no atomic insects roaming this quiet earth.

I spent the night chasing down rumour and speculation to no avail, and although I’m sure there were problems, they obviously weren’t big enough to warrant telling the whole world. Either that or they were easy enough to hide.

I was in two minds about the whole night — part of me desperately wanted to be the first journalist to cover the end of the world, but fortunately, that was a relatively tiny voice compared with the huge sigh of relief that nothing major had fal-len over.

But do you think we can convince the rest of the world that this was a success? Not a chance. I’ve spent about a week talking with various mainstream media types and the one thing they want to know is: was it a con. They seem to think we promised to spend millions of dollars over a number of months and have Armageddon at the same time. Sorry guys, it was either/or.

Not that they’re listening. Remember— these are the same journalists who insist we now live in the 21st century, when clearly we don’t.

The evidence is overwhelming — I don’t have a jet car yet. When I get one of those babies, then come and see me about living in the future. Until then, just stick to what you know best, okay?

But as a news story, Y2K didn’t really cut the mustard. Really, there was nothing to report. A few Web sites reported screwy dates — my two favourites are the episode listing for Star Trek: Voyager which had one episode airing on 1/1/100 (“Stardate unknown”) and the now-infamous Auckland International Airport news release that reported no Y2K problems as of January 1, 100. Even Apple wasn’t to escape unscathed — despite bleating on for months about how Apple’s foresight meant Mac aficionados wouldn’t be bothered by Y2K, its Web site reported January 1 as being in the year 20100.

While the Internet usually does a good job of hiding such disasters by constantly re-writing its own his-tory, such classics must be kept for future generations (okay, me) to marvel at. You can see these, plus dozens of other Y2K SNAFU at: y2kmistakes.com

But there were some more serious problems — in Japan a nuclear power station shut off its radiation monitoring systems, while in the US seven different nuclear plants reported similar problems and at least one more plant, in Little Rock Arkansas, wouldn’t allow people access to certain areas.

These problems aren’t in and of themselves dangerous, but if they weren’t fixed in a hurry, or if they were combined with other problems there was a potential there for disaster.

In all of the cases above, taken from a Readiness Commission briefing paper, the one thing that stood out as a saving grace was contingency planning. Sure, the work done fixing Y2K played its part, but when the whole thing went pear shaped, it was the backup plan that saved the day.

So why is it that New Zealand companies claimed en masse that they didn’t need to plan for disaster, even in the last month before Y2K? Almost half of all companies questioned by the commission said they didn’t need a contingency plan and that’s patently absurd.

We live in a volcano-riddled, earthquake-prone country in the cyclone path where anything can, and often does, happen. It’s not a case of if, it’s a case of when will something strike and it seems ridiculous to me that companies are burying their heads in the sand avoiding the issue.

I know contingency planning has very little visible worth — you get to spend time wondering “what if” while doodling on a pad of paper — but you have to get some kind of plan in place prior to the disaster in order to cope as smoothly as possible.

But enough of disaster — I have another term for you to ponder. Does anyone else remember triage? You know —- this isn’t urgent so we’ll fix it later. Is any of that held-over work going to get done or are you all going to just push it to one side and not worry about it?

Does any of it actually need doing and where will you all find the time?

And should we be worried about CEOs and directors turning their backs on IT, glad to have that “whole thing” behind them? Surely now is the time to press ahead and get stuck in to e-commerce?

That’s all for tomorrow, hopefully. For now, you should be sitting back, relaxing and contemplating a job well done. I do wonder, however, if the Readiness Commission produced a cockroach ad to play in the event of major catastrophe. I’d pay good money to see that.

Paul Brislen is a Computerworld reporter and regular columnist, phone: 0-9-377 9902, For publication copy letters to cw_letters@idg.co.nz.


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