Y2K? What about EMU? Asks UK consultant

New Zealand companies think they have it tough with the year 2000 issue. Firms in the European Union will have another crisis to deal with - at the same time - the changeover to a single currency. The danger of companies not meeting either of these challenges is very real, says William List, a UK specialist in secure systems who visits New Zealand this week.

New Zealand companies think they have it tough with the year 2000 issue. Firms in the European Union will have another crisis to deal with — at the same time — the changeover to a single currency.

The danger of companies not meeting either of these challenges is very real, says William List, a UK specialist in secure systems.

List, who is coming to New Zealand this week for the NZSA-sponsored InfoSec conference in Wellington, is a director of the Kingswell Partnership, an Oxfordshire consultancy specialising in IT-flavoured business risk limitation.

List, a chartered accountant by trade and an IT consultant by inclination, says as in New Zealand UK bosses are worried they may be personally liable for year 2000 breakdowns. “It gives everybody a bit of a sore head,” he says. “But who else is going to be liable?” The thing that is more scary, he says, is in Europe governments still own airlines, telcos, trains — who’s liable if they fall over?

“Because there’s a very strong school of thought that they will fall over. They are certainly taking it seriously. The real question, is can they do it in time.”

Is there some doubt? “Serious doubt.”

US government statistics says it’s going to be a close-run thing there, he says, but the Europeans have got another problem — “they’re gutting their systems for this European currency at the same time. It’s a huge problem, certainly in terms of all the administration applications on computers. Anything that deals with money is a problem — potentially.”

A final decision on European currency integration will be made within the next nine months or so, he says. If it gets the go-ahead, it’s implemented in the wholesale money market on January 1, 1999, and the retail market in 2002, maybe 2001. “For six months everybody can pay their bills in local currency or EMUs [European Monetary Units]. That’s going to be fun for everybody.”

But he believes the year 2000 issue has numerous sides, and doubts it is being overhyped. “I don’t know whether it’s overkill or not, but I’ve been speaking to people in the safety-critical industries, and they are incredibly worried.

“The problem that’s really starting to come is all the embedded chips — some of which are date-dependent. You’ve got to find all the chips and sort them out. That is proving to be more difficult than sorting out the big, thundering mainframes of the banks and the airlines and the air traffic controllers. These are all the chips in the machines, and the aircraft and the motorcars and the video recorders.”

List’s keynote at the conference is entitled “Data Integrity: what is Reality?”. For the past few years he has been involved in working groups promulgating the idea that proving data integrity become a vital part of IT security. He says trust in system and data integrity is wrong — integrity must be able to be demonstrated.

“You can’t live in a world where you can only assume [integrity] is right. Ultimately that blows up in your face.”

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