Some NZ govt departments yet to tackle Year 2000 issue

New Zealand government departments are in various states of readiness to deal with the Year 2000 date issue.

How ready are New Zealand’s government departments likely to be for the Year 2000?

A quick survey by Computerworld of key agencies has turned up a decidedly mixed bag. Some, such as Statistics and Inland Revenue, have dealt with the issue either in recent upgrades or in changes already planned between now and 1999.

Others are less up with the play. “We haven’t really thought about it,” was the response of a senior figure in the Labour Department’s information technology division.

And the interdepartmental committee on information technology has yet to consider the issue--although it will be doing so shortly, says committee member, and IT manager at Statistics, Jonathan Palmer.

By and large, though, there is a high level of awareness of the issue, he says, simply because there has been so much publicity about it.

For the state sector the possible disruption is enormous, in such areas as benefit payments. In the United States, Congress has called for representations from big name vendors such as EDS, IBM and Computer Associates. That has yet to happen here.

Congress is also requiring departments to have a plan to cope with the issue prepared by the beginning of November.

New Zealand doesn’t have that sort of centralised management of departments any more. The closest to it is the interdepartmental committee, but this works more in terms of setting guidelines rather than issuing directives.

This also means that no one is able to give an estimate of how much the Year 2000 issue will cost the taxpayer to fix. In the US, the Gartner Group estimates the problem will take the average organisation 5-10% of its annual IT budget.

The problem is also time. Although 2000 may seem like a long way off, it has been calculated that one in every 50 lines of code contains a date reference. That’s a lot of work to get through in two years.

Even those who are preparing now expect problems. Statistics is going through a major revamp over the next couple of years, and, says Palmer, “very little of the old code will remain by the time we’ve finished. Even so, I have no doubt we are going to strike problems.”

Don Burns, at Inland Revenue, says his department has already analysed the likely impact. “Our systems were designed with the Year 2000 issue in mind. We have had a major refit over the last six years. However, we have found a few areas where we need to do some work.”

Treasury also feels its systems are new enough not to face the problem, says Franz Ombler, assistant director of system support. However it is about to run a test operation, putting the clocks forward and seeing what happens.

Social Welfare deputy IT director Clive Cooper says the department has looked at the issue, but “as far as we know, we’re okay. There may be the odd report that doesn’t switch over, but the financial transactions are okay.”

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