Opinion: How will the doomsayers spin this one?

For three years, my company has been in the unenviable position of telling people the rollover to Y2K will be uneventful. I believe the words I used in a recent column were "minimal impact." This was not a newsworthy position to take. My company has been the Adlai Stevenson of Y2K forecasters.

Now we are being proved right. This is also an unenviable position! By the time the power and telephones in New Zealand didn't crash, the news media realised they better cover more concerts and cultural events and skip trying to find millennium bug stories.

I was on Y2K watch yesterday (still am, actually), and was amused by my trade press colleagues as they rushed around trying like crazy to find Y2K bugs to write about. Thank goodness for those point-of-sale terminals that failed in the UK on Thursday and the last-minute fixes to the FAA system.

Now what REALLY galls me is the furious backpedaling and spin doctoring I'm picking up from the former doom-and-gloomers. One Web site for a research company which will remain nameless, after taking a 180-degree turn on the forecasts it's been publishing for three years, actually has the gall to claim that its strident pronouncements woke the world up to Y2K and THAT'S why nothing much has happened.


Here's what happened. A lot of hard-working IT professionals and a lot of supportive vendors worked long and hard to fix a problem they knew had to be fixed. They also probably worked too hard at it. Because the doom-and-gloomers got everyone worried about Y2K, even those who finished remediation last year had to keep polishing and buffing code until last night. And, just in case, they ruined New Year's Eve for millions of employees.

This would all be just so much entertainment except for the fact that there will be a lot of second-guessing now about the $US280 billion we've spent worldwide in the last five years cleaning our IT attic. And what about the $40 billion we still have to spend in the two years ahead?

You know and I know that mission-critical operational systems can actually be a lot less complex than big ERP or customer information systems, where huge databases and hundreds of individual applications generate some output that then gets used for another application. Given the fact that most of the companies in the country are small businesses, and that two-thirds of them hadn't finished Y2K remediation as of last night, I believe plenty of Y2K glitches have yet to appear. They just won't be newsworthy.

So I think the IT profession has two choices:

To make up some computer problems to blame on Y2K and then rush to fix them while everybody watches on, or To hire a PR firm on Monday to convince upper management that the reason the Y2K rollover went so smoothly was the meticulous care with which the IT profession took care of the biggest scourge of the 20th century.

That's my advice, anyway. Say, now that Y2K has passed, anyone want to buy a case of Spam? I have extra.

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