We may be facing an impending crisis of such magnitude that some experts believe it will bring the global economy to a standstill or worse. The cause of the crisis is known, but many refuse to see it as such. The Year 2000 computer bug, or Y2K, is caused by computers recording the year as 00. Computers will assume the first two digits are 19, rather than 20. You may have seen stories in newspapers about the problems that could be faced as the new century is born. These accounts are entertaining, but the problem is far more complex, dangerous and widespread then is realised. Many people who should grasp the scope and nature of this crisis, especially governments, clearly underestimate its significance. The Gatner Group, a leading research authority on information technology, has made some shocking predictions. It estimates that thirty per cent of all computer applications will not be Y2K compliant in time and it will cost between US$300 billion to US$600 billion to fix the problem.
The group of seven industrial countries and Russia have declared that the millennium bug presents a major challenge to the world"s defence, transport, telecommunications, financial services, energy and environmental services. The governments of these countries have set up official committees to ensure that they are prepared for Y2K. But governments in general have been slower than corporations to realise the devastating potential of the crisis. They find it more difficult than businesses to raise money and act quickly.
While the majority of governments and major businesses in developed nations have spent large sums of money to minimise the impact of Y2K, they recognise that it is medium and small businesses that will most likely have older hardware and out of date software. Much more serious and worrying is the lack of prf economic development and which have important trading relationships with the world"s industrial nations. These include Korea, Malaysia, South Africa, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. All are economically important countries and play an active part in the global economy.
As in most countries around the world, important infrastructure responsibilities rest with the government. Electricity generation is handled by publicly owned utilities, where computer failure would quickly send living standards plummeting. Electrical generating plants are the linch-pins of modern life; if the millennium bug places them in danger it could shut down economies.
In the UAE, the Ministry of Finance and Industry said in a statement "we have succeeded in solving the millennium problem in all state offices". This bland statement is disturbing as it makes no mention of the many micro-processors that are used in the oil industry nor does it make clear just what is meant by "solved". Little has been done by the UAE government to raise awareness or inform the business community of the consequences of the Y2K computer bug. This statement is not enough. A detailed analysis of the problems that the country could face and a clear statement on the steps taken to solve them would be far more reassuring; as would a campaign of awareness to encourage businesses to identify and rectify any problems. Several Dubai government agencies such as Dubai Ports Authority and Ducab are preparing their systems for the millennium shift and have gone as far as setting up special task forces to tackle the problem. But they lag behind some large private companies and the financial sector.
What is worrying though, is a statement made by the chairman of the Dubai Quality Group in which he voices concern over whether the Ministry of Water and Electricity can confirm that its turbines will still work at the beginning of the year 2000, because if they do not, life in the UAE will be paralysed. He also expressed the same concern about the Ministry of Health worrying that equipment in intensive care units will stay operational. On the upside the Dubai Quality Group and private companies such as Unilever are taking positive steps to raise awareness of the problem and instill a sense of urgency into all sectors of the community. If there is confusion and a lack of coherence in the Emirates, one of the most advanced economies in the Middle and Far East, just think what will happen in less sophisticated countries who will not be able to solve all their millennium related problems owing to a lack of money. These will be the weak links, as there are huge inter-dependancies between systems and a failed system could have a knock-on effect.
We must tackle this problem together. If one company or country fails, it will effect many others. At stake is our future. So let us do all we can to minimise the impact of the millennium time bomb so that when it explodes at midnight on 31 December 1999 our only difficulty will be programming our VCRs.