Where will you be?

D-Day. Ground Zero. Bikini Atoll. The trenches. Those are the terms IS managers use when they talk about The Deadline -- January 1, 2000. So we asked where various IS luminaries and vendor executives plan to be that day. Newly appointed Graeme Inchley, project manager of the federal government's Year 2000 Steering Committee (CW, January 30, p1) said: "Normally on January 1, I am on holidays with friends after a relaxing New Year's Eve, usually in the country. I am hopeful I won't have to change this and it will be business as usual." Bill Gates, chairman and CEO, Microsoft: "I always spend New Year's Day with my family. As that is also my wedding anniversary, I will no doubt be doing something fun to celebrate with Melinda."

Inchley said he accepted the challenge as project manager of the Y2K steering committee, because of his role as an executive of IT companies for the last 10 years selling technology to customers and the community.

"As this is a technology-based problem, I felt this position would give me the opportunity to put something back into the community.

"It is a project of national significance and I am delighted to be involved to help where I can to minimise the risks."

The steering committee, chaired by Maurice Newman, chairman of Deutsche Morgan Grenfell Australia and chairman of the Australian Stock Exchange, is made up of representatives of industry and of the states and territories. The first meeting will be held in the middle of this month where directions for, and further additions to, the committee will be on the agenda. The charter of the steering committee is to create an awareness of the problem and ensure the industry is doing something about it. In his first week on the job Inchley received several Y2K application fixes to evaluate but he is adamant that the committee will not be in the business of certifying products.

Inchley said: "A worst case scenario if all Y2K contingencies are not in place will include a severe recession coupled with public health and safety risks."

Inchley believes most large organisations are at least working on ensuring their IT systems are compliant but not enough organisations have thought about embedded systems (virtually any device which has a micro device in it for control) so his first mission is to increase awareness of this aspect of Y2K. A source said, for example, that the Australian Defence Force would not be able to fight a war in 2000 and so far the importance of embedded systems has not been recognised by the Defence Department's top brass.

This same source said government at all levels in most states has yet to recognise the importance of embedded systems, and actively do anything, with the exception of the Northern Territory and to a lesser degree, Ssouth Australia and Western Australia. Inchley agrees that the Northern Territory and Western Australia have already done some good work in this area which the committee can draw on to help the other states. He said: "A second concern which is not receiving enough attention is business processes".

He cites the example of a manufacturing plant which may have its accounting and administration systems under control but has not looked at external influences to ensure that the supply of raw materials is not disrupted or distributors of the manufactured product can continue to distribute. In a nutshell, communication systems between businesses need to be addressed. Inchley is not aware of any organisation in Australia that has addressed all aspects of Y2K yet. However, he is confident that some larger organisations are well on their way.

Discussing the vexing question of liability if businesses and individuals are affected due to non-compliance, Inchley said: "I fail to see how somebody can be held liable if they have done their best to alleviate this problem. On the other hand, if someone knew about this problem and did nothing to address it then that person is probably liable. It is up to individuals to do something about the problem and it would be counterproductive to see a lot of cases in court."

The State of California is looking at legislation to limit the liability in that state while Finland has legislated against liability actions for non compliance.

"This is definitely an issue that the steering committee will consider," Inchley said.

Australian company, Infrastructure Control Services (ICS) of Sydney, has been identifying and fixing embedded systems for large and small organisations for the past 18 months and claims to have worked on facilities in virtually every industry in some 20 countries.

Tim Murray, managing director of ICS, said embedded systems pose the greatest 2000 threat simply because they are not taken seriously.

"From our experience, 2000 projects generally spawn in IT departments that naturally want to fix the systems under their management first. The embedded systems don't get a mention until the IT project is well advanced (if at all!), probably because IT people don't understand them. Embedded systems are designed, built and maintained by electrical engineers, yet many IT project managers refuse to admit they can't deal with the embedded systems within their IT team."

According to Tarlo Lyons, a London-based law firm: "This then creates a liability problem, as the service provider has failed to use reasonable care and skill."

Murray said: "There are a number of unique features about embedded systems that make them particularly challenging from a 2000 point of view. For example, they are not easily found or identifiable, because, as their name suggests, they are usually embedded in the equipment; you cannot generally obtain from them a list of programs; and the act of checking them for 2000 readiness may cause them to fail or may destroy them.

"Failure of embedded systems is unlikely to produce catastrophic disasters, as the scaremongers warn, because high-risk businesses will (hopefully!) take necessary precautions. For example, I understand some airlines have announced they won't be flying across the date change. Instead, it will be the silly little things that people didn't think about which will stop their production. For example, a food manufacturer may not be able to put a use-by date on its products, which prevents it by law from putting them on the shelves."

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