Y2K and EMU: NCC Sounds Alarm

June 30, 1998

The National Computing Centre (NCC) is advising software users that they may be putting their businesses at risk, despite substantial Y2K planning. It warns that all businesses which use third-party software should be deeply concerned, and should take decisive action now to protect themselves. As a result, it is putting forward its Escrow 2000 service as an essential element in any millennium survival strategy.

The NCC’s aggressive stance has been prompted by a disturbing trend. As the world’s largest independent repository of source code, the NCC has received more requests in the last three months from businesses to release code due to ‘failure to maintain’ than it has had in total over the last 18 years. The NCC warns that this is likely to increase significantly – meaning that thousands of businesses without code protected by escrow may be affected.

As a neutral ‘keeper’ of source code, NCC is able to assure businesses who use its Escrow 2000 service that, if the software vendor does not adquately maintain its applications, the business will be granted access to the original programming code in order to have it fixed.

Experts at NCC believe that the abnormally high levels of requests for release source code are caused by the worldwide lack of resources for dealing with Y2K problems. They add that this will be compounded in Europe by the impact of EMU. This situation has led to a high level of acquisition and merger activity in the IT industry, which many market watchers belive is due to larger companies buying out smaller software houses in order to use their development staff to solve Y2K commitments for their own products. This, warns the NCC, should ring alarm bells for users.

Many companies are investing considerable resources in ensuring that all the software they use is millennium compliant, and are also relying on the fact that when software fails it is possible to fix it. To support this, the Government has recently announced a training scheme for ‘bug fixers’ to carry out such essential repairs. However, what is not always appreciated, NCC experts point out, is that it will first be necessary to have access to the source code to cure any defect. The NCC take the view that there is no legal right for a licensee to insist on access to source code. A properly drawn Escrow agreement gives that right.

Ken Pearce, business development manager at NCC’s Escrow International, explains why the organisation is so concerned, ‘‘The lack of support for third-party software is going to affect everybody at some point. The problem runs right across the spectrum of IT suppliers: at the high end of the market, Compaq’s takeover of DEC and the hostile bid by CA for Computer Sciences must leave users concerned about the future support strategy of the resulting organisations. At the smaller end of the market, it is anecdotally reported that small software houses are being ‘vacuumed up’ in the USA by resource-starved larger organisations. And only this month, Taskforce 2000’s Robin Guenier warned that unscrupulous software developers might choose to wind themselves up, rather than face Year 2000 commitments.’’

Pearce continues, ‘‘That’s why we are urging users to look at the bigger picture and put all their third-party software into escrow now. Businesses need to ask themselves: ‘Is my supplier going to survive?’; ‘Will they be taken over?’; ‘Is the software truly Year 2000 and EMU compliant?’; and finally, ‘Is it worth the risk?’ No one ever got sacked for having too many escrow agreements. What we’re saying is that with every day, the risk gets higher. Why take that chance?’’

The NCC escrow helpline is on 0161 242 2430 or look at www.ncc.co.uk.