BT says it is being forced into the move - which involves adding a 1 after the initial 0, so that, for example, 071 becomes 0171 - as a first step in making more numbers available. At the same time international codes are changing from 010 to 00 to bring this country into line with the rest of Europe.
But while this heavy demand for numbers is no doubt being welcomed at the ever-expansive BT, it is likely to bring anything but a smile to the faces of Britain's business community. Although the deadline for the change is less than a year away, BT estimates that 80 per cent of companies have done nothing to prepare for what it is calling 'phONEday'.
Understandable as this may be, it does not make good business sense. Many companies rely for their survival on extensive databases containing many telephone numbers. Others are spread over many different locations or have large numbers of staff out in the field. Increasing numbers of firms have introduced teleworking, with staff working from home linked to the office by telephone.
But help is at hand from the Computer Management Group, a consultancy specialising in IT, which has launched a processing service designed to make the updating process as simple as possible.
It is putting the finishing touches to a software package developed in co-ordination with Oftel that will enable companies to have their existing lists of telephone numbers converted for as little as 5p each. Files of telephone numbers can be accepted for processing in formats ranging from diskette, through reel and tape to such electronic communications systems as Compuserve and Internet Transfer.
CMG also plans to provide a bespoke service, to be either introduced with the aid of its consultants or sold to individual customers.