Too little, too late: Y2K report

At least while Rome burned Nero only fiddled - he didn't try to organise the fire engines, direct fire fighters or coordinate the pumping of water. Yet our government seems intent on meddling rather than helping when it comes to year 2000 issues.

At least while Rome burned Nero only fiddled — he didn't try to organise the fire engines, direct fire fighters or coordinate the pumping of water. Yet our government seems intent on meddling rather than helping when it comes to year 2000 issues.

The Task Force report into Y2K, slated for release in mid-August, has finally arrived, calling for the creation of a commission to coordinate government efforts and for the State Services Commission to establish a review team to look at government compliance programmes. There will be no mass media information campaign, although a range of lesser campaigns will be targeted at local governments, key utility services, and SMEs (small/medium enterprises. This campaign takes the form of letters, brochures and a Web site. The total cost for the government initiative is $4.35 million.

The commission will advise the government on New Zealand's readiness, both public and private sectors, as well as liaising with agencies like Civil Defence to ensure contingency planning is carried out. It will "promote year 2000 activities ... in all infrastructure sectors", as well as managing the information campaigns to raise awareness of the issue. It will set up and maintain two "electronic directories" (Web site) of Y2K-related information. The first will contain links to suppliers' pages, the second will link to pages containing testing results and the like.

The commission will consist of Basil Logan as chair, and David Henry as deputy. Details of who else, if there are others, will be part of the commission were not available as Computerworld went to press. The commission will report to the Minister for Information Technology, Maurice Williamson.

"'The Y2K Task Force Readiness Report' clearly outlines the next steps required to ensure New Zealand is prepared to deal with the contingencies arising from the year 2000 software problem," says Williamson, clearly missing the point that Y2K goes beyond being merely a "software problem".

The review team will have a similar role to that of the General Accounting Office (GAO) in the US. It will "assess progress by key organisations in the wider public sector toward year 2000 readiness".

It is interesting to note that the GAO, which began its assessment of US federal departments and their levels of compliance some time ago, estimates it will not finish its assessment work until several years after 2000.

Also of note is the fact that the State Services Commission has no jurisdiction over local authorities.

"Local authorities may appreciate an opportunity to use the services of the review team," says the report. They will, however, have to pay for the service. The make-up of the review team had not been announced at press time.

There are also a number of key points that the government has ignored, choosing instead to bury its head in the sand.

There will be no extra funding for the essential services, hospitals, water supply, sewage and the like. Y2K work will have to be funded from existing budgets.

"Reallocation of resources might be needed within or between public sector organisations to ensure that key organisations are ready in time," says the report, but Williamson clearly believes there is enough money already allotted to the health sector, for example, to cover Y2K.

There will be no tax incentives for companies that do manage to get some form of compliance in place. "It would be unfair in respect of those businesses that have already taken action," says the report, forgetting about things like backdating.

There will be no "good Samaritan" legislation, which would promote the sharing of information on Y2K compliance. The reason given for this is that many companies are reluctant to share Y2K information because they may be sued.

There will be no mass-media information campaign — brochures will be prepared by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs and handed out at Citizens' Advice. The "trickle-down effect" will be relied on to tell people what's going on.

The report makes little of the fact that there is a shortage of trained IT professionals with the appropriate skills for Y2K. Many have been lured overseas with offers of high-paying contracts and that forces others to be pulled off existing projects in favour of Y2K work.

The report also fails to make issue of the fact that New Zealand's major trading partners will also be affected and we should be doing all we can to ensure they are aware of the situation.

The Task Force commissioned two surveys — one a mail poll of government organisations, the other a phone poll of private companies.

"We have confidence in the self-reported assessment by SMEs. We do not believe that all public--sector organisations ... are justified in the level of confidence they hold," says the report, although quite how this evaluation was reached is not explained.

The validity of the survey results must also be challenged in light of one of the more spurious questions listed in the report:

"Mail survey respondents were asked how likely or unlikely they thought it was that they would be seriously affected by year 2000 problems given all they had done and intend to do to identify and address their year 2000 problems. [report's emphasis]" Not surprisingly, 85% said it was unlikely there would be serious consequences after all their hard work.

The report begins well, although it still insists on repeating the myth that lifts will fail because of Y2K.

It opens with an admission from the Task Force that its members were a little sceptical of the "degree to which such threats were being represented."

Fortunately, they came to the conclusion that Y2K "has the potential to have a significant impact on the lives of many New Zealanders".

The government's response is less than helpful. It disregards the major points, presumably due to the cost involved, and fails to announce either concrete actions, or a timetable for the next phase of its plan. Demanding that all department heads "take ownership" of the problem is one thing, giving hospitals first call on resources to fix the problem is something else entirely.

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