In 1999, the British Y2K Taskforce predicted some major remediation efforts wouldn't be completed by the deadline, "given the abysmal general record of IT in delivering large projects on time". For once, IT underwhelmed us for the right reasons. Perhaps some projects weren't completed, but it didn't matter. Italy's devil-may-care measures had only begun the previous September but the sky didn't fall, and in Belarus and the Ukraine (where little remediation was undertaken), officials could afford to be smug on 1 January 2000.
Whether or not there were as many rollover dates as Peter de Jager - author of the first widely publicised article about the Y2K bug, published by Computerworld in 1993 - and other programmers had suggested, most decision-makers had chosen to believe the programmers.
In Italy, the authorities seemed not to care. "The countries that did very little Y2K work did not choose that path after careful consideration of the issues," said de Jager. "They chose that strategy by default."
IT's finest hour?
In an MIS Y2K roundtable in May 1999, Readiness Commission special advisor John Good was upbeat about New Zealand's prospects, but commented, "Unfortunately, we won't be able to avoid the economic impact of whatever goes wrong globally."
Some international glitches were reported post-rollover, but impacts were negligible. The Guardian cited a handful of almost comical incidents: A weather centre in Aberdeen, a tide gauge in Portsmouth, the payroll of the German Opera.
Do CIOs and IT commentators still believe doing nothing would have had significant consequences for New Zealand organisations?
Aaron Kumove, managing director of Horizon Consulting and former NZ Post CIO, has a warning for those who think it best to forget all about the year 2000. "People will get bitten again, and I think it's generational to some extent: When new bodies move into the key roles, their memories will not be fresh. Y2K galvanised people because of common fear."
Terry Hartmann, director of secure identification and biometrics at Unisys Asia Pacific, reminds us that for many organisations, Y2K was a blessing in disguise. "Everyone thinks Y2K was a waste of time and effort, but it gave a lot of organisations a reason to change their platform."
Denis Orme, now chief executive of IBANZ (Insurance Brokers Association of New Zealand), was involved in Y2K projects at Wilson and Horton, which separated infrastructure upgrades from remediation to nip extravagances in the bud. "If there was a business case for new technology, we looked at its return on investment. We had other systems that we needed to remediate that were still good, workable systems. For every one of their publications and printing companies, we went through that process and saved quite a lot of money."
For the many organisations that took Y2K seriously, such as Taranaki District Health Board where André Snoxall (today general manager of HealthIntelligence and CIO of Capital and Coast District Health Board) was IT chief, Y2K was an opportunity to take stock. "It was a salutary lesson in how to run an effective project," Snoxall says.
Garth Biggs, former Gen-i CEO and now on the board of trustees of IT advisory body the HiGrowth Project, believes the outlook appeared bleaker to the public than it really was because of legal caution over compliance.
"I was in the supermarket business. We took over stores and changed all the systems to 31 December, ran them, clocked them over night, and came back the next day. We tested ourselves almost to distraction but the lawyers wouldn't allow us to say, 'We don't have any problems.'"
Critics would say not only was the legal profession over-cautious but that the entire IT industry was duped. Anthony Finkelstein, professor of software systems engineering at University College London, and a leading Y2K sceptic, said in The Guardian in 2000, "The bug wrote itself."
Historians may still be arguing about that one when the next millennium rolls over.
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