The more I read about the year 2000 fiasco, the more I am reminded of archaeologists kicking over the traces of a long forgotten problem.
Maybe I've just been watching too many Sunday afternoon programmes where Tony Robinson digs up Little Arsebare by the Sea, but the dissecting and pontificating which is going on is reminiscent of an event of long ago, not one which hits us in just over one hundred weeks. It's akin to that scene in the Planet of the Apes when the hero comes across the Statue of Liberty in the sand and realises his fellow humans have obliterated themselves in a nuclear holocaust years before. The only problem is that it hasn't happened yet.
Yet there is so much certainty in the air about the outcome of the problem and the past week has seen so much of that coming from the most unconvincing of sources - the government. Lost in its own world of predicting the future, they have decided to do what they do best - blame someone else and denounce the 'ghastly culprit' - the computer industry.
But let's get real. The reason this problem arose was the phenomenal cost of memory in early computers. A dirty little fix was organised to get round it at a time when thousands of similar fixes were used to save expensive memory. There are thousands of Cobol systems out there with lots of equally dirty little secrets. It's just that they will not cost quite as much to repair as this one because it was a bit more universal than most. But unfortunately for the present government, their computers harbour an unfeasibly large number of these fixes. But more of that later.
The time for blaming has long past. The computer press has been warning us about this problem for the past 10 years. Any business which has not sorted itself out by now deserves all it will get. And that goes for chairmen and board members - you obviously haven't been reading the trade press.
It still astounds me that an estimated 77 per cent of businesses have still not identified all the resources they will need to deal with the problem. I diagnose too much golf or recreational drugs.
Therefore, Lord Cope of Brechin's sortie into the year 2000 problem is funny. To tax computer companies to pay for the costs of the damage they have inflicted upon us is, I suppose, typically New Labour. Unsurprising and uninspiring. Levying a tax is just spreading the load more unevenly - it will have to be paid equally by those companies which will not profit from the vast consultancy fees made as this problem is tackled - it will fall on all companies, while the new cowboy outfits reap the benefits and probably do a crap job. But they've thought of that as well.
And don't they have lots of people in government to handle these problems? They want to create an official standard for year 2000-compliant kit, complete with a stamp on all kits the new bureaucrats deem worthy. But judging by how long it took them to come up with a millennium bug logo, it may be better to adopt the egg standard.
And therein lies the governments' ignorance of the problem. They lump the entire industry with blame, with as little understanding of the difference between an OEM, a Var, a manufacturer or year 2000 contractor. This is a true bureaucrat's answer to a problem - label and tax it.
But the true irony of this government's position - albeit a mantle they inherited from their predecessors - is that the software and hardware most likely to go wrong on the fateful day belongs to the dozens of government departments still to get their act together.
I suggest that the chancellor Gordon Brown gets his advisors together and knocks their heads into shape and, instead of talking tax, gets them to talk skills-shortage and how they can train unemployed people to help.
But then again it may not be worth worrying about. I read an article recently by an ex-civil servant who said he might ignore the problem on New Years' Eve 1999 by going on a cycling holiday.
I wonder why he won't be trusting his life to air traffic controllers that night?
Jock McPherson - reseller and year 2000 victim.
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