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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

COMPUTER BUSINESS: Concern in 2000 Bug Is Too Little, Too Late

Of almost any country in the world Russia is possibly the most psychologically unprepared for confronting the year 2000 problem, or Y2K problem as the computer industry likes to call it.

Addressing this issue implies a sense of urgent social responsibility that in many Russian industries is almost completely absent. Are, for example, factories that kill rivers with toxic waste or banks that defraud both depositors and lenders likely to give 2 kopeks toward their Y2K readiness?

Confronting the millennium bug also implies a preparedness to be open on issues of information-technology policy and an active willingness to communicate and coordinate on these issues with other companies and organizations. In my experience some of the largest computer-using organizations in this country regard even the number of personal computers they have as classified information. For them, sharing detailed information on system software requires a leap of faith so great I find it almost impossible to imagine.

During the last four months the Y2K issue has begun to hit the headlines of mainstream media in Russia. Much of this publicity has been initiated by the State Communications Committee, which is responsible for Y2K policy in Russia. Suddenly infected with an virulent attack of public responsibility, the committee has been pronouncing frequently, and using ever higher numbers, how many hundreds of million of dollars it will cost to prepare for the year 2000 bug. I hate to sound cynical, but where was all this enthusiasm two or three years ago when it really mattered?

Last month, I read what must rank as the strangest of pronouncements yet made on this subject. The communications committee was reported to have reached an agreement with IBM under which it will receive discounts of up to 50 percent on IBM S-390 mainframe computers if it can come up with an order for 2,000 to 3,000 units from governmental structures.

The committee's deputy chairman, Alexander Volokitin, was quoted as saying that the realization of this project was being hindered by a lack of financing f more than $200 million by my estimate.

This whole drive is, of course, beginning years too late. Even if Russia had access to limitless financing and large numbers of Y2K specialists (of which it has neither) there would still be nowhere close to enough time to eliminate even the majority of Y2K risks in Russia before they become Y2K failures.

I don't want to appear smug here. It is a million times harder to get Russia's warring ministries, utilities and corporations to reveal information and to share it with each other than it is to sit on the sidelines and criticize. It is also a huge and expensive job to educate Russian senior management on the seriousness of this subject and, tougher still, to convince them of the necessity to spend money on it. However, I do think that we should all face the facts: It is already too late for Russia to be prepared for this problem and neither $500 million nor 2,000 IBM mainframe computers are going to change this.

Y2K will not be an issue of preparedness for the majority of Russian organizations. Instead it will be an exercise in firefighting Y2K-related crises after the fact.

This means that any company operating in Russia should give this issue some serious thought. This is not only a question of checking the computer hardware and software your company uses but of contingency planning f systematicallythinking through the implications of Y2K-related failures at suppliers, customers or the utilities. Be prepared: It is highly likely that gas, electricity, telephones, transport will all experience Y2K failures.

Robert Farish is research director at IDC Russia. E-mail: