WA is on track to beat millennium bug

WA SMALL and medium businesses seem to be well on track to beat the Year 2000 or Y2K problem.

In fact, 72 per cent have taken action to address it, a recent Depart-ment of Commerce and Trade survey has found.

The survey of 1,000 WA businesses found all large enterprises, 90 per cent of medium-sized businesses and 69 per cent of small businesses had taken some action.

Commerce and Trade chief Richard Muirhead said 20 per cent of respondents expected the Y2K problem to affect their business in some way – down from 1998 when about 30 per cent expected the bug to bite.

But more still needs to be done.

“While the survey indicates a substantially increased response since the department’s last survey in April 1998 – where only 50 per cent of enterprises interviewed had taken action – it also found about 20 per cent of small businesses still plan to take no action,” Mr Muirhead said.

“While many of these may have little or no direct use of date sensitive computers, they should ensure their suppliers and major customers aren’t likely to have problems.

“This also applies to companies that have taken extensive action to ensure their own equipment and business software is Y2K safe.”

Year 2000 WA Industry Cam-paign manager Brett Sabien said businesses needed to consider what would happen to their supply chain and planning for unexpected outcomes from Y2K.

“Even if a business hasn’t done anything to address the Y2K problem, it can still plan for contingencies,” Mr Sabien said.

Most WA Government departments appear to be on track to be fully Y2K compliant before 1 January 2000.

To date, the government has spent $109.88 million on becoming Y2K compliant and another $55.2 million is believed to be needed.

As local government departments have been preparing for Y2K, WA has also been leading the national charge to beat the bug.

Indeed, much of the information used on a national scale has been developed here.

Essentially the Y2K problem relates to computers not being able to recognise the change of date from 1999 to 2000.

On 1 January 2000, affected computers are likely to assume 01/01/00 actually refers to 1 January 1900 or some similarly inappropriate date.

Old programming practices are partly to blame. Programmers used only two digits to record the year.

With so many machines now relying on computer chips, the problem could threaten manufacturing plants, aircraft, building management systems – even some motor vehicles.

But 1 January 2000 is not the only date to worry about.

9 September 1999 poses a problem because in the 1980s computer programmers used 9/9/99 as a value to signify ‘no expiration date’.

However, files with that date could expire and be overwritten with new material.

Many computers may also have a problem recognising the Year 2000 as a leap year and thus ignore 29 February 2000.

While business response in WA to the Y2K problem has been good, additional pressures have been added.

The introduction of the GST looms as another compliance problem businesses have to address.

Also, there is a growing push for businesses to become involved in electronic commerce – further adding to the stress on information technology departments.

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