Sunday, January 02, 2000

Computer reliance less than thought




BY RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN
The Washington Post

        Not so long ago, a Y2K computer catastrophe seemed inevitable. Few thought that the world's businesses, governments and technicians could band together to test hundreds of millions of computers and tens of billions of electronic devices, fix any problems and then check them all again to ensure the repairs worked.

        Even the most optimistic specialists predicted moderate disruptions: Some cities would certainly lose power. Phone systems might fail. Banking records could disappear.

        But when clocks rolled into the year 2000, and officials from New Zealand to Hawaii checked their monitors, even the most sanguine forecasts seemed too dire, leading many to question why the much-feared Y2K glitch was such a dud — even in Russia, China, India and other nations seen as particularly vulnerable.

        So what went right?

        Technology analysts offered a combination of answers Saturday. They credited the unusual cooperation among businesses and governments worldwide to address the issue. They also cited the unprecedented mobilization of people, money and executive attention on the effort. And they wondered whether their previous assumption about the technological dependence of less-developed countries had been off the mark.

        “We may have overstated the impact of technology on the infrastructure in a lot of developing countries,” said Matt Hotle, a vice president at the Gartner Group, a technology consulting firm that predicted early last year that Y2K could create “significant disruptions” in such nations.

        In Paraguay, for instance, where the government waited until mid-1999 to start tackling the glitch, the country's Y2K coordinator had predicted widespread power outages, water shutdowns and phone disruptions. But as of Saturday afternoon, all basic services, including electricity, telephones and water, were functioning normally.

        “At this moment, everything is working,” said Walter Schafer Paoli, the former coordinator. He attributed the poor, landlocked nation's success with Y2K to redoubled efforts to fix computers in the final weeks of 1999 and a discovery that many government services were less reliant on computers than initially thought.

        “When they began to do the repairs, they found the problem was not as bad as they believed,” Mr. Schafer said.

        The same assessment was given by officials in Washington, who expressed surprise that there were no reports thus far of major disruptions in Russia and China. “I think the reason we're not seeing anything too serious there is that the systems in those countries were not highly vulnerable to the Y2K bug in the first place,” said Bruce McConnell, the director of the International Y2K Cooperation Center, a United Nations-funded organization that has been closely monitoring date-related problems.

        And in some cases, foreign governments and businesses have accomplished their Y2K repair work in a shorter time than their American counterparts because they opted for programming shortcuts that are less common in the United States — such as rolling a computer's internal clock back to 1979, because the days of the week match those of 1999.

       



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