Scottish Group Report: Damp Squib or Ticking Time Bomb – A Y2K Post Mortem

August 31, 2000

The evening seminar and discussion was a joint meeting with theEdinburgh Branch of the British Computer Society whose Annual General Meetingpreceded the event. The Speakers were John Ivinson, the Vice-President of theBCS, and Harry Small, Joint Chairman of SCL.

John Ivinson
John Ivinson, who spoke first, has spent the last 28 years as a computerconsultant. Most recently he has been working in the area of Y2K issues, EMU ande-commerce. He was appointed Specialist Advisor to the House of Commons SelectCommittee on Science and Technology on Y2K issues.

His presentationbegan with a summary of the ‘noted’ Y2K occurrences. The discussion wasopened to the floor and some Y2K problems were described by those who had dealtwith them on the ground. The flavour of the discussion was that while there hadbeen a handful of Y2K problems highlighted in the press and media the vastmajority of incidences had gone unreported – even to the Y2K monitoring bodyAction 2000.

Y2K Hype
The question was posed as to whether the hype of Y2K disaster had beenexaggerated and, if so, whether this had been detrimental. Again those attendingwere allowed to experience a detailed and informative discussion. There werethose present who believed that the IT industry had suffered as a result of thehype with large organisations who had overspent on millennium compliance nowcutting back on their IT budgets. Alternatively it was noted that SOHO and SMEcompanies were now spending more on IT than ever before; as a result of spendingto comply with the date issues, they had now built the foundations of an ITbudget within their organisations which previously had, perhaps, not existed orsuffered low funding.

Additionally itwas highlighted that the business community’s concentration on IT as a resultof the rollover problems and its associated modernisation of hardware, updatingof software and strengthening of infrastructure now leaves in its wake astronger, more robust, more modern IT facilitation than otherwise would havebeen the case. Further it was noted that, had the UK not developed in thismanner, there was no way of knowing what skeletons in the closet would haveemerged as the year was born.

Finally it was noted that the millennium and the millennium bug itself are notover yet. The technical solution of ‘windowing’ means that legacy machineswill have code within them in the future that has a fixed or shifting window ofyears within its calendar. The example of the currency change in 1971 was usedto show that code predating this time can often be seen to change financial sumsfrom decimal to pre-decimal, for processing then back to decimal forpresentation. This legacy code, forgotten about for some time, was noted whenthese programmes were revisited for the Y2K update. With this in mind, we mustkeep ‘windowing’ solutions in mind in the future and remind ourselves thatthe hack which saved us from the prophesied disaster as New Year fell may stillreturn to haunt us.

Harry Small
This point was highlighted by Harry Small as he opened his presentation.Harry Small is the IT Partner of Baker & Mackenzie and probably the mostwell known name in IT contract drafting in the UK.

Harry started byreferring to the lack of litigation over the issues in discussion. Hisexplanation for the lack of litigation was the preparedness which societyenjoyed for the event itself. This meant that the majority of matters whichremained to be solved by the lawyers had been relatively simple. He, however,gave the group an insight as to what benefits the legal community can take fromthe experience. The revisiting of contracts for technical provision of productsand services has served to strengthen further the reliance that the parties canplace upon the procedures in place. Further he believes that this has led to amore predictable outcome being made possible where disputes do arise.

In the Absence of a Corpse
Thus Harry Small concluded there was no corpse upon which to have apost-mortem. What we can do is learn from the experience and from recent caselaw relating to computer contracts. There was discussion regarding thepre-action protocols which had been developed to deal with the expected rush ofY2K litigation. It was the belief of both the evening’s speakers that theseshould be generalised in order to build the foundations for a generic ICT PAP.The benefit of this would include much wider agreement between parties in ICTlitigation thus expediting ICT litigation in a more rapid and more effectivemanner.

Y2K Compliance Standard
Secondly Harry Small stressed the importance of the Y2K Conformancestandard. It is certainly not something which should be ignored in the post Y2Kenvironment as it offers more than just a warranty with regard to the millenniumbug but goes further and acts as a standard for correct date processing. Anexample given during the evening was inconsistent leap year integration intodate aware software. The Y2K Compliance Standard covers such errors and soremains a useful and important inclusion into ICT contracts for the future. Inconclusion, he highlighted some important points regarding recent case law andrelated movements in ICT contracts.

The evening was full of discussion between the speakers and their audienceand was valued by all who attended. The speakers, experts in their field and onthis particular subject, delivered quality presentations full of interesting andinformative knowledge and tips which could only come from practitioners of sucha high level. The audience were responsive and keen to engage the speakers –which undoubtedly added a depth and interaction to what was an evening of greattechnical, legal and general value to all who were present.

Martin Kerr is Managing Director of Cyan InformationTechnology Ltd and a lecturer at the University of Glasgow.