Gerstner thinks Y2K is manageable

The year 2000 computer problem isn't likely to cause a "digital winter" that disrupts the entire world, IBM chief Louis Gerstner said here at his company's annual Business Partner Executive Conference on Sunday.

"Nobody knows exactly what will happen 311 days from now," Gerstner, chairman and chief executive officer of IBM admitted, adding, "it's likely we will see some disruptions" but nothing in the order of the dire forecasts that some have predicted.

However, Gerstner made it clear that he is concerned about small businesses, which seem to be less prepared for the rollover to the new millennium than are large companies. He's also got worries about how developing nations will fare.

The year 2000 computer problem is occurring because most older software code was written with a two-digit date field likely to interpret, for example, the last two digits in 2000 as "1900" and fail to make correct calculations.

"We have to be thoughtful about this," Gerstner said. "What we can't do is sit back on our heels and see which way the ball bounces."

IBM has been conducting seminars and working closely with business partners on the year 2000 problem, he said, pledging to continue doing that. During a talk he gave after Gerstner's speech, Bill Etherington, IBM senior vice president for sales and distribution, said that he has told his sales force to be prepared to work on December 31 of this year to help business partners who need assistance coping with the date change.

Business partners have expressed concerns about the year 2000 problem, both Etherington and Gerstner indicated. But, as Gerstner said, it's not just year 2000 that has people worried.

Thriving economies in the US and Western Europe could be harmed by less stable economies in Latin America, Russia and elsewhere, Gerstner said. Conversion to the euro provides a "wild card" whose ramifications can't be fully assessed until that process is complete. Toss in the year 2000 problem and this might be the "most unusual" year ever for the information technology industry, he said.

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