Troops on stand-by for 2000 bug chaos: Who is beating the problem

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The Independent Online
A SNAPSHOT of Britain's readiness for the the Millennium Bug - which arises because computer programs that store the year as a two- digit figure cannot distinguish between the 20th and 21st centuries - indicates that smaller businesses and the National Health Service have the biggest problems.


Banking and finance: Well prepared, because they have the money to afford to hire programmers. Also, their only vulnerable point is computers, rather than embedded systems. Most have completed analysis and are in the finishing stage - altering programs.

Utilities (water, gas, electricity): Most have moved beyond planning, into reprogramming.

Telecommunications companies: All of the 30 companies with a telecoms licence say they will meet the millennium deadline. Any that fail will be, technically, in breach of their licence. Companies have a mixture of mainframe computer and embedded systems.

Small-to-medium companies (10-250 employees): In trouble. Many will rely on accounts systems which may begin to behave unpredictably as 2000 approaches. Some may be forced to revert to paper-based systems. Computer crashes may cause some accounts records to be lost forever.

Department of Social Security: With one of the largest integrated computer systems in Europe, the DSS began its preparations in 1995. It must ensure that benefits are paid faultlessly. The 60 million national insurance records are already stored in a format that incorporates four, not two, year digits, but testing associated systems is necessary. It expects to complete that this year.

NHS: Health trusts face huge problems because they are already short of cash to pay programmers. Widespread use in equipment of embedded systems - chips with inbuilt code, used by many electronic devices - means all those chips have to be checked. Some hospitals will inevitably miss the deadline - with unpredictable effects on patient health.