Monday January 3, 1999
Millennium Bug Hassles Show Systems Not Immune
By Sara Ledwith, European Technology Correspondent
LONDON (Reuters) - Reports of the death of global computer systems in the millennium date change were exaggerated, but computer sniffs and sneezes on Monday showed the bug to be more than just hype.
From software glitches that caused problems for Internet banking customers to an Italian error which added a century onto some jail sentences, a string of minor irritants was building up.
``It's probably during this day added to the number of errors by 15-20 or 25 percent, which is more hassle than most people need,'' said Gartner Group analyst Andy Kyte, as much of Europe returned to work from a long break.
With Gartner estimating the overall bug-prevention spend at $300-600 billion worldwide over three to four years, some newspapers rushed to cry ``hoax'' at the absence of headline-hogging disasters.
A senior official responsible for dealing with the millennium transition in Slovenia resigned following media charges that he exaggerated the risks of the Y2K computer bug.
In France, popular daily France-Soir wrote in an editorial: ''Who stole the bug? What happened to this hyped-up monster, the virtual virus that threatened our homes, our nuclear plants and our intercontinental missiles? ...Has the bug given birth to a mouse?''
Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman attributed the hype over Y2K to ``the fetishism of the computer culture'' which he said was ``deceitful.''
Hassle, Not Headlines
So far most problems are cosmetic -- like computers misprinting dates through an inability to process the year 2000 -- but their full extent has yet to emerge and may never make headlines. Analysts have said all along that the millennium bug insurance cost, while high, is only a fraction of the $2 trillion or so spent annually on information technology and communications.
As Web sites which have prospered on news of the ``Y2K'' problem went up for sale on the Internet, analysts noted that some problems are hard for the media to convey.
Gartner's Kyte said there was evidence of a software foul-up affecting some multinational corporations whose computers are synchronized using time signals.
``It appears that there are problems with software, which is causing quite a bit of a headache,'' he said. Several companies sell the software, and the solution has been to disable the process, which lowers efficiency but does not stop work.
'HOORAY!', WE GOT THE BUG
And analysts noted that authorities and company officials across the globe were not likely to broadcast any casualties. ``The companies that have admitted to problems -- nobody said, 'Hey we've got the millennium bug, hooray,''' said Fons Kuijpers, member of the management group of PA Consulting. ``With all the media hype surrounding the rollover, I suspect that if anyone experienced a problem they won't report it. I see a possible transparency problem here,'' Andrea di Maio, Italian-based consultant for Gartner, told Reuters. For International Data Corp., another leading technology consultancy, the impact on small businesses is key: one company's lost dollar of revenue is another company's 70 cents as the cost of computer glitches trickles down the supply chain.
Months Of Glitches Ahead
IDC has forecast that ``annoying and embarrassing Y2K computer glitches will be plentiful, starting at midnight on New Year's Eve and running through the first quarter's reporting period, but major infrastructure outages won't occur.''
All told, it expects the total worldwide impact of Y2K-related computer downtime to take only $23 billion out of the global economy in 2000 -- less than a tenth of global industry revenues for the year.
And when it comes to assessing whether countries or companies have overspent, there are no easy answers. The more out of date computer systems more widely used in developing countries may be less important than in advanced areas.
``The pain inflicted by Y2K computer glitches is a function not only of how much computer downtime the bug will cause, but also how much that downtime matters,'' IDC said.