Chaos just 14 months off

The millennium problem will start for intelligent systems before 1999, experts warn

Manufacturers are being warned to start work immediately on checking machines and equipment for Year 2000 compliance, or risk facing systems failures from the start of 1999.

‘If nothing at all is done, there will be a catastrophe,’ said Dr Ian Nussey, vice-president of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, which last week published a 150-page technical guidebook to help smaller companies get machinery and equipment 2000-compliant.

‘It is not too dramatic to say they could bring many aspects of life to a halt,’ he said. The guidance covers so-called embedded systems – widely used in process control, communications and testing and diagnostic systems, all of which may use date information.

Earlier this week trade and industry secretary Margaret Beckett pledged £1m for a new agency called Action 2000, which will lead a campaign to give training and advice to businesses tackling the millennium bomb.

But many companies wanting to act now may find themselves struggling to find qualified consultants. A survey by employment agency Manpower predicted shortages in systems analysts, programmers and testers in the first half of next year, as thousands of firms act on compliance at the same time.

Demand for engineers involved in compliance work will grow in the later part of 1998. ‘It may be too late,’ admitted Nussey. ‘But that is no excuse for doing nothing.’

* Embedded Systems and the Year 2000 Problem, IEE, £50. Tel: 01438 313311.

{{Dates with disaster

1998: 98 used to indicate break in a file sequence22/08/99: Problem with Geographical Positioning Systems1999; 09/09/99; 12/99; and31/12/99: 99 used in older systems as end of file indicator01/01/2000: 00 not recognised or precedes 99 in sequence28/02/2000: Leap year problem29/02/2000: Leap year problem}}