Global IT Meeting Eyes Y2K

The World Congress on Information Technology ended yesterday with a look at the global impact of the year 2000 problem and a warning that many developing nations and small and medium-size businesses won't be able to address the glitch effectively.

Coupled with that dark picture were warnings that year-2000-related failures in any one nation threaten increasingly interconnected worldwide networks.

"Y2K is no more and no less than a global virus which is going to infiltrate every nook and cranny," said Ahmad Kamal, the Pakistani ambassador who heads the United Nations committee looking at the year 2000 problem.

Kamal described a world where nations are no more than interconnected nodes on a vast network. "Because of the networking, you cannot leave any single element in that network unattended," he said.

But in some nations, "there is blissful ignorance" about the year 2000 problem, Kamal said. He said he has been working to build awareness of the threat of the millennium bug among U.N. member states. "It is quite obvious that we are already late," Kamal said. "This is is not a problem of tomorrow; it's a problem of yesterday."

The situation is much the same for industrialized nations, and just as worrisome. Maria Livanos Cattaui, secretary general of the International Chamber of Commerce, said, for instance, that small banks in developed nations are lagging in year 2000 compliance efforts. "They are simply not taking it seriously enough," she said.

Multinational corporations and large financial institutions have made the most progress in addressing year 2000 problems, said Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America. He urged these companies to set an example for smaller firms by making the year 2000 a top priority and by sharing information.

Miller said large companies should also take a forceful look at the supply chain, ask the "tough questions" and "push to make sure that supply chain partners are year 2000 compliant."

Kamal urged businesses in industrialized nations to use the resources in developing nations to address year 2000 problems. He said programmers in these nations can repair code at a fraction of the cost of Western nations. "You have an opportunity here for collaboration," he said.

In some areas of the world, governments are taking a direct approach to helping smaller businesses.

The Hong Kong Productivity Council, for example, recently set up a year 2000 consulting center to help small and medium-size businesses deal with the millennium bug. Unlike large corporations, these businesses, "don't have resources, don't have the expertise. They cannot even assess the impact," said Thomas Tang, executive director of the council, a quasi-public/private agency that provides expert IT, engineering, business administration consulting to businesses.

Year 2000 remediation costs are a barrier for these companies, Tang said. "Software for the year 2000 can easily cost you $50,000, $80,000 to start," he said. The Council has bought year 2000 assessment and remediation software and charges businesses an hourly rate for their use, he said.

The council also provides management expertise so companies can manage their business and a year 2000 project. "While you're solving the Y2K [problem], you have to keep your company going," Tang said.

About 1,600 people attended this year's World Congress on Information Technology, representing more than 90 countries. The Congress won't meet again for two years, in the year 2000 in Taipei, Taiwan, after the bug has done its damage.