Summing up the year of the survey

If 1999 will be remembered for anything in IT circles, it will probably be as the year of the survey - in the past 12 months everyone has wanted to know what everyone else was doing about Y2K while simultaneously avoiding revealing anything about their own projects.

If 1999 will be remembered for anything in IT circles, it will probably be as the year of the survey — in the past 12 months everyone has wanted to know what everyone else was doing about Y2K while simultaneously avoiding revealing anything about their own projects. Communication has been the name of the game this year, and government in its various forms has been on a bit of a roller-coaster ride. The year started without any funds being allocated for a public awareness campaign, yet by the end of it we had that damned cockroach telling us to "Be Y2K Wise", to bottle water, eat our spouses and to stock up on buckets lined with plastic bags. A number of other about-faces came during the year — most notably the decision to follow most of the rest of the western world with a Y2K "Good Samaritan" law. Basically put, if you make a statement about Y2K that’s covered by the act you can’t be sued if things go wrong, so long as you’re telling the truth. Initially the Minister for Y2K, Maurice Williamson, claimed such a law wasn’t needed and wouldn’t help, but eventually he changed his tune. In March he introduced the Year 2000 Information Disclosure Bill. "It’s been the ultimate test in frustration," says United MP Peter Dunne, who had been campaigning for such a law since 1997. "If we’d had the bill when we first mooted it that’s one thing, but to introduce it now is like bolting the stable door long after the horse has fled," says his advisor, Mark Stonyer. One area that was never addressed was Inland Revenue’s decision that Y2K was a feature, not a bug and so companies would have to expense the cost instead of writing it off in that year. By the middle of the year surveys were in full flight. Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) was polling all the territorial local authorities (TLAs) to determine their capabilities and comparing them with large businesses. The State Services Commission (SSC) Y2K Project Office was established in February and looked at government departmental readiness. It triaged them into "vital" and "who cares" and was then checking that they were "on target". Numerous overseas agencies were surveying our readiness industry by industry as well. The New Zealand Stock Exchange sent out a letter telling all listed companies they would have to "advise the market [as to] whether or not they were compliant", although what would happen if they didn’t or weren’t was not specified. The Readiness Commission launched a number of surveys aimed at large business, small business and households. Eventually it reached the point where a number of smaller councils were complaining of spending more time working on surveys about Y2K than they were on Y2K itself. The August report from LGNZ notes that more than 25% of councils have had to move their estimated completion dates back significantly. Slippage was a trend throughout the year. Both public- and private-sector entities constantly revised their completion dates toward the end of the year, and one council, Central Otago, claimed it wouldn’t be ready until "some time in the year 2000", although that has since been revised to "before December 31". In May Treasury discovered Y2K and released a report about the potential impact. "This is a highly speculative and imprecise exercise" says the report, which goes on to say Y2K could cost $100 for every New Zealander. In the end, any Y2K costs are balanced by the surge in spending both before and after the event. Contingency planning is a term that should be familiar to any organisation in New Zealand, yet many feel they don’t have to prepare for possible disruption from Y2K. By November only 41% of businesses had prepared and tested continuity plans for Y2K, despite constant urging from the Readiness Commission. Many companies instituted an IT freeze on implementing new systems or upgrades. Most CIOs felt they would still test and develop new systems but would certainly not be putting anything into production until well after January 1, 2000. "We will be a lot more cautious starting in October and November in what extra software we implement. We’re referring to it as a chill but it won’t necessarily translate into spending because there’s a lot of things we can do that don’t affect core software. We will start locking down systems from that date but we would do that anyway. We normally have a software freeze in December because it’s a busy month for us. Transaction numbers are very high. I haven’t noticed anything in the industry, although there is a fair amount of talk about people closing systems down from June," says ASB Bank IT manager Gary Fissenden. Perhaps the best thing about January 1 finally rolling around is that IT departments and company directors will finally be able to get on with e-commerce projects that have been put on hold while Y2K is assessed. Paul Brislen is Computerworld’s Y2K reporter, phone: 0-9-377 9902. For publication copy letters to

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