2000: the Millennium Blame

2000: the Millennium Blame

The other night on the evening news was another prophet of doom again predicting that the millennium bug will stop computer systems ranging from traffic lights to lifts when January 1, 2000 comes along. According to the report, hardly any Australian CIOs have bothered to do anything about the Year 2000. As such, the soothsayers were predicting a catastrophe would unfold that would paralyse the country and bankrupt businesses. Yet, as I have pointed out before in CIO, when IDC surveyed Australasian CIOs last year the vast majority did not identify addressing the Year 2000 issue as a major challenge.

There is clearly some disparity between the views of IT professionals and the opinions of market analysts on this matter. However, I believe some insight into this difference of opinion was provided by a recent article in ComputerWorld by Paul Strassmann. Strassmann claims that the turnover rate for American CIOs is now running at 40 per cent. Furthermore, he claims the average on-the-job CIO tenure expectancy is 30 months. IDC's evidence from running the InTEP management forum shows things are not much different here. Over the last 12 months the principal contact in around 25 per cent of member companies has changed.

Given this volatility is it any wonder that CIOs are not really too concerned about what will happen in two years time? Is anyone going to thank them for galvanising the entire organisations to handle a problem that is two years away from materialising? They are too busy wrestling with today's crocodiles.

Moreover, their business peers only gauge their effectiveness on how well they address current problems.

And CIOs with the foresight to emphasise the potential impact of the millennium bug aren't being particularly well rewarded. One Melbourne CIO alerted his executive to this danger in 1993. He spent much of the next 18 months fighting a pretty lonely cause at the executive level before he got buy in. The result is that the organisation was one of the first to tackle the problem in earnest.

The company has paid significantly less for contractor assistance than current market rates and has addressed the problem with plenty of time and monies to spare. You would think this initiative would have qualified the CIO for the IT equivalent of a "hero of the revolution". Instead he finds himself in the unenviable position of being asked to reapply for his old job.

The reality is that the real culprits in the millennium bug are those business leaders who regard anything more than 90 days as visionary. They view IT as a cost to be minimised rather than an investment to be harnessed. Their ignorance continues to suffocate the effective use of IT in many organisations. They decry the need for strategic planning. They challenge the relevance of infrastructure investments. They reduce the numbers in IT operational support and, when their influence results in an ineffective IT department, they are the first to advocate outsourcing.

Yet the millennium bug could well bring the pigeons home to roost for these executives. My own prediction is that if, or when, the millennium bug strikes it will be a bit like the conversion to decimal currency. Some organisations will be on the mark, while others will spend a year or so catching up. The CIOs of these backward businesses are going to be looking their fellow executives in the eye saying cough up if you want the bug addressed.

And, as they dig deep, senior management can't blame the CIO for the situation.

After all, this CIO will have only just joined the organisation.

Peter Hind is the manager of User Programs, which includes InTEP, at IDC Australia

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