Don't just offer advice, Mr Cruickshank, do something useful

William Hartston offers a practical way to squash the millennium bug

Share
Related Topics
THERE are two theories about the millennium bug: Theory One - the Doomsday Scenario - says that when computers click over to the year 2000 the whole of the western economy will collapse, planes will crash and lights will go out all over Europe, but none of that will matter because we'll all be killed by the stray nuclear missiles launched automatically from ex-Soviet millennium-non-compliant computers.

Theory Two, however, says that all these scare stories are just part of the Millennium Scam - a get-rich-quick conspiracy of lawyers and computer consultants charging exorbitant fees to tell companies there's nothing to worry about. (So far, the lawyers are doing best: more money has been invested in assessing the legal implications of millennial melt- down than in tackling the problem itself.)

Action 2000, the bug- busting arm of the Department of Trade and Industry, run by Don Cruickshank, appears to take an optimistic version of the Doomsday view: a huge disaster threatens, but it's not too late to do something about it. But are they doing the right things? Efforts have been concentrated in two principal directions: alerting the nation's businesses to test their systems in good time; and the training of an army of 20,000 technicians to return to their offices and squash bugs.

For large businesses, with purpose-built computer systems, such an individual approach is essential, yet in a country of four million small businesses the present mood of controlled panic is creating unnecessary work and confusion.

It's the single-PC companies who are being let down by our computer-welfare state. Every company that keeps its accounts on a standard off-the-peg spreadsheet, running on a popular computer make, has to find out for itself whether the two are millennium-compatible. And if they are not, whether this will create significant problems.

By now, sufficient tests have surely been done to collate enough information on a floppy disk to give most small businesses a simple method of diagnosing the areas in which they might face problems. Most of the hard work has already been done, yet every firm is having to repeat it. The avoidance of such repetitive work is exactly what computer technology does best.

If Action 2000 were to send every VAT-registered business such a diagnostic floppy disk, it could save the nation billions. Estimates of the effect of the millennium bug on the British economy range from an economic armageddon- sized loss of 29 per cent of GDP, to a best-case scenario of 1 per cent of businesses going bust. That's 40,000 firms and around half a million added to the unemployment figures.

Yet the remit of Action 2000 from the DTI prevents it from doing anything so useful. It is there to train and inform, to aid the every-man-for- himself culture, rather than producing something of general use. Yet every business needs all the help it can get - not only to test its own systems, but to be reassured that suppliers and clients are not going to let it down.

Of the pounds 97m package announced last month to tackle the millennium bug, a large proportion will be eaten up in the cost of performing repetitive diagnostic tasks. One research project and four million floppy disks would save a lot of money.

And even those costs could be cut drastically were the British and US governments to pass legislation making it mandatory for Microsoft and other leading software companies to come clean on which of their programs are going to foul up on 1 January 2000.

The way things are going, both our initial theories may be proved right: the computer consultants will become millennium millionaires, then they will be killed off with the rest of us by the failure of some vital system that went unchecked while they were coining their fortunes.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal  

What is 4Chan? And why does it threaten women like Emma Watson?

Memphis Barker
Chuka Umunna was elected MP for Streatham in 2010  

Could flirty Chuka Umunna be worth a punt for Labour’s top job?

Matthew Norman
Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum