Technology: Time ticks by for millennium bug tsar

One man, one day a week: is Don Cruickshank serious about getting British business to take action against the `Millennium Bug' that will affect computers after December 31 1999? Charles Arthur, Science Editor, discovered that he is - and that he expects things to get worse before they get better.

What should we expect from the run-up to 2000? Computer cowboys who will rip companies off while doing a shoddy job of reprogramming their systems, says Don Cruickshank, the man appointed by the Government to ginger business people into taking the problem seriously.

The trouble is, some businesses aren't yet aware of the problems they face. And computer cowboys are only the beginning.

"That's so certain, it's one of the first statements you can make. Prices [of skilled staff] will go up, which will attract - um - marginal players into the game. And the later you are, the bigger the problem you have. It's like having a leak and calling out an emergency plumber. You're completely in their hands." `

Then again, Mr Cruickshank's job as head of Action 2000 sounds, initially, like a wonderful sinecure. He will work on it for only one day a week. But surely he will carry the can if - or, more truthfully, when - things go wrong after the clocks ring out 31 December 1999. Perhaps the sinecure is a poisoned chalice?

"Ah, well," he says with a smile. "That's public life."

But Mr Cruickshank, presently head of the telecoms regulator Oftel, doesn't think that his post should be one requiring a Batphone and an underground cave with a high-speed car. He isn't going to solve problems: he's going to make businesses aware that they face them.

Not Batman, then, solving the troubles of computing's Gotham City? "Afraid not," he told The Independent, in one of his first interviews since becoming the UK's bug tsar. "There isn't going to be one of those."

Instead, Action 2000 will probably set up a Web site offering advice and "best practice" for approaching the problem. Not Batman, but the Batman Helpline.

The point about the Millennium Bug is that it is not only of interest to computer nerds, or PC owners, or people who work on computers. Because chips are so ubiquitous, any flaws will affect hundreds of citizens who thought they never touched a computer.

The problem arises because many chips and programs store the year as a two-digit number. After 1999, that number will for the first time decrease instead of increasing when the clock ticks over. The computer may decide either that the date is 1900, or that a serious error has occurred and that it should shut down.

Nobody knows what the result will be. Timelock safes might not open. Trains might sail past red signal lights. Automated hospital drips could shut down. Lifts could freeze. Supermarket fridges might cut off, leaving food to spoil over the New Year weekend (starting on Saturday, 1 January 2000).

In fact he thinks that many business people are adopting a deceptive approach to their 2000 efforts. "It puzzled me at first. They will admit things in private about the problems they're having which they absolutely won't in public. I think they're attempting to be like swans. Sailing serenely along on the surface, but underneath they're paddling like hell. There's a lot of that going on."

l The introduction of the European currency should be delayed because of massive computer problems due to bite at the millennium, a committee of MPs was told last night.

Robin Guenier, executive director of the Taskforce 2000 group set up to pre-empt the bug, said 40,000 medium-sized and large businesses had not yet even begun to address the problem. The majority of computers on sale now were likely to fail at midnight on 31 December 1999.

The computer industry had a "dreadful" record of missing deadlines, he said, with 80 per cent of projects ending late, he told the Commons science and technology committee.

"The single most evident reason for postponing the Euro is that the year 2,000 problem is happening at the same time. We are doing the largest IT job we have ever done and the second largest," he said.

While some sectors were way ahead - almost every City solicitors had a partner working on the legal implications, for example - others had barely recognised the enormity of the problem.

A recent survey had suggested that only 10 per cent of businesses had carried out an audit of their systems, 57 per cent planned to do nothing until 1999 - far too late - and while 80 per cent planned to do the necessary work in house less than half had the staff to do it.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Parker says: 'I once had a taster use the phrase 'smells like the sex glands of a lemming'. Who in the world can relate to that?'
food + drinkRobert Parker's 100-point scale is a benchmark of achievement for wine-makers everywhere
News
i100
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing