<a name="4"> Year 2000 Date Problem: Smaller businesses get a helping hand <a name="5"> Computer Weekly (UK)

9th January, 1997

Year 2000: Smaller businesses get a helping hand

Marks & Spencer and BT have taken the bull by the horns and are looking at what their suppliers are doing to address the issue.

Some larger corporations are finally beginning to realise the importance of ensuring that trading partners of all sizes are dealing with the issue. Taskforce 2000 assistant executive director Glasson believes that among those firms aware of the problem, it will be the big companies that are likely to influence the fate of the smaller ones. British Telecom and retail giant Marks & Spencer are already collaborating with trading partners to ensure that they have action plans in place and BT has warned that any suppliers found wanting will be replaced by companies whose IT is millennium-compliant.

BT is operating a "rag" system against suppliers under which each company is allocated a colour: green means that the business is dealing with the year 2000 problem; amber means that BT thinks the supplier will implement an action plan but is monitoring the situation and red symbolises a business that is not co-operating and might need to be replaced. Since late 1995 when it began an assessment of the issue, BT has contacted its suppliers worldwide to assess their levels of risk. It admits that there are still some suppliers that have not responded and there are also areas of particular concern.

Milli Lewis, millennium spokeswoman for BT, says, "One area of concern is the switch supply because we need to reassure ourselves that even if the components are millennium-compliant, they will interact with all the other components in the network. We need to get these things in place quickly because it takes time to install them, test them and have them all up and running for the year 2000."

Lewis says BT is concentrating on its main core equipment including the telephony system and products supplied to customers including modems and switches, with progress on the latter slower than BT originally envisaged owing to delays in dealing with a supply chain that stretches around the world. Lewis says, "We will not intentionally get to the year 2000 and say we can't cope but how long is a piece of string? Until you start trying to fix systems you can't tell how long it will take. But the business sector relies on us and we can't afford not to be year 2000-compliant and we will have no choice but to replace suppliers which can't cope with the millennium."

Marks & Spencer also says it is addressing the issue. A spokeswoman says, "We have more than 700 suppliers, some of which are small and all of which have been contacted by us to encourage them to assess their IT systems. They obviously have to look at their computers to make sure they're millennium compliant otherwise they would not be able to conduct business with us." But IBM's Grant remains unconvinced that even the firms which profess to have the problem in hand are really prepared. "Companies may have completed their year 2000 projects but they're still not prepared for the new century. For example, they now know that they need new software but they haven't installed it yet."

He also fears that smaller companies in particular still do not realise that many fundamental functions that appear non-IT related are in fact controlled by computers, including lifts, security, building maintenance and time-locks on safes. "The whole point is that companies of all sizes are interdependent and those involved with businesses which haven't addressed the millennium problem are going to suffer dramatically," he says

Copyright © Reed Business Publishing 1996

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