What is the Millennium Bug (Y2K)?

Stabroek News
July 31, 1999

At 12:01 am on January 1, 2000, it is feared that many computer systems worldwide will malfunction or produce incorrect information because of a date change anomaly. The Year 2000 problem, as it is called, is as a result of the way computer systems store and manipulate dates.

Dates are often used as part of a computer-based system's algorithm or decision process. For efficiency and to economise storage space, most computer manufacturers and programme designers omitted the first two digits of the year (i.e. the century) when they referred to dates in computer programs.

Therefore, when the date rolls over from 1999 (99) to 2000 (00), many computer programmes will fail to recognize the change in the century and misread "00" as 1900 instead.

As the year 2000 approaches, the date roll-over problems associated with various computer systems become more apparent. These problems include the following:

Inability of sort routines to perform properly;
Reversal of logic decisions;
Inability to continue forecasting for shelf life items;
Inability of inventory systems to generate correct stock level reports for reordering;
Failure of commercial products to function;
Inversion of security access rules;
Inability to properly validate intelligence data;

The types of systems that will be affected include mainframes, client/servers, networks, work stations, distributed systems, telecommunications systems, radar processors, and communication processors. The software that will be potentially affected includes both application software and system software. Databases and files which store two-position year fields will also be affected.

Then there are three other date-related issues that compound the problem.

Many of the systems developed fail to take into account that the year 2000 is a leap year. Many of those same systems have associated values with date fields or they have hard-coded values in the software. Many systems that use dates typically define and use a date data type which, due to its dependence on storage structures of the computer systems, will roll-over and fail.

Utility services in moves to become Y2K compliant - national committee to access funding

Crucial utility services are not expected to be affected by the year 2000 millennium bug, as the National Y2K Committee, in keeping with recommendations made in a report by Canadian consultants, moves to make such agencies compliant.

General Manager of the National Data Management Authority (NDMA), Godfrey Proctor, a member of the Y2K Committee, stated that crucial government agencies such as the Guyana Electricity Corporation (GEC), the Guyana Water Authority (GUYWA), the Georgetown Sewerage and Water Commissioners (GS&WC), the Guyana Oil Company (GUYOIL) and the Georgetown Hospital would not be affected by the millennium bug.

He said that according to the report, which was compiled by a two-man team from Data Smith Technologies, which had been contracted by the government to assess the readiness of government agencies, the services of these critical agencies would not be affected. However, their billing services, if not modified, would be.

The consultant team did an inventory of all equipment at the 140 agencies and checked to see which were Y2K compliant and those which were not. Checks were also made on equipment with embedded chips as to whether they were Y2K ready or not.

A grant of US$100,000 from the World Bank was used to do the assessment, compile the report and assist to set up the committee's secretariat which is housed at the NDMA.

According to Proctor, a further grant of about US$450,000 was obtained from the World Bank for the implementation of the Guyana Public Assessment National Plan.

With this grant, the committee is checking those pieces of equipment that were deemed not Y2K compliant by the consultants to ascertain the degree of non-compliance. After this the committee would determine whether equipment had to be replaced or whether the installation of certain components would make them compliant.

After this phase is completed, the committee would then set about acquiring the replacements or components necessary to make the systems compliant. He admitted that funds would pose a problem, but that government had promised to inject money into the project.

He gave Spotlight on Issues a synopsis of the report as it dealt with some of the crucial services.

Proctor said according to the consultants, the billing systems of the GEC, GUYWA and GS&WC needed more attention. It was found that the GEC billing system was non-compliant. However, he said, government was in the process of looking for software to replace the system.

GS&WC has set up a Y2K committee and again only the billing system of this entity would be affected if it is non-compliant. This agency has no embedded chips in its facilities that are crucial to its service.

GUYWA has documented the impact of the millennium bug and has developed a strategy to deal with it and therefore should be ready for the new millennium. Water services would not be disrupted if GUYWA's system fails.

At the Georgetown Hospital only one piece of equipment has a date-related process. However, a recommendation was made to upgrade a few other pieces of equipment which may cause public concern.

GUYOIL, according to the consultant's report, which was compiled in early April, seems to have no problem and had disclosed that its system would be have been Y2K ready by April. The payroll of the company is handled by a separate company, which had stated that its system was Y2K compliant. GUYOIL's pumps have electronic components and the manufacturers of these components had stated that they were compliant. Their retail shops which have date-sensitive systems have been certified as being compliant.

Guyanese need not worry about records of their National Insurance Scheme (NIS) contributions since this government agency had taken the necessary steps to be compliant. According to Proctor, the NIS has developed a strategy to deal with it supported by top management.

"NIS is in control of the Y2K problem and should meet the millennium without major glitches."

The Dependents Pension Fund has undertaken efforts to ensure that it is not hindered by the so-called millennium bug. This entity would be changing its software to comply.

The Inland Revenue Department (IRD) was almost compliant in April as were the National Registration Centre and the Elections Commission. The IRD's core business issues have already been addressed. Its main programme, which does the tax assessments has been modified to be Y2K ready. Proctor said IRD was prepared to face the year 2000 and that its programmes have been tested and are currently in use since the entity has to project for a year in advance.

There is also no need for public servants to worry about salaries. The Ministry of Finance has a new payroll system and is in the process of installing same. However, if the new system is not installed for some reason or the other, contingency plans would be activated. Proctor explained that the old system has been modified to be compliant in case the new one did not come on stream.

Equipment at the Customs and Excise Department has been upgraded, replaced and tested for readiness. Proctor said new hardware and software equipment have been installed over four to five years in an overhaul of its computer operations.

Proctor revealed that the committee is paying special attention to Air Traffic Control. He said he had been advised by the Director of Civil Aviation that equipment in use at the control tower was Y2K compliant. He said the director claimed that he had been assured by the manufacturers of the equipment that they were compliant. However, no chances are being taken by the government with air safety and plans to replace certain pieces of equipment are being considered. However, Proctor said that based on a quotation obtained by the CAD director, these pieces of equipment were very expensive.

As the committee moves to ensure that these and other agencies are compliant, its members would be scouting around for more funds.

Linmine and Bermine are two entities that the committee would be looking to offer some assistance to. Linmine has recently upgraded its hardware, but was having difficulty financing its software replacement. With support from top management, this entity is looking to change its entire system. According to Proctor, apart from the functions mentioned, the committee has to do a follow-up on the report as well as inspection of agencies which have projected dates by which they would be compliant to see whether they are by that date, or how far towards being compliant they were.

Most agencies if not compliant, claimed they would be by the time the new millennium rolls around.

Are banks ready for the 'bug'

Do Guyanese have to worry about their finances at commercial banks? Are they taking Y2K seriously? Does it really matter in a country that is not as technologically advanced as even some Caribbean countries, such as Trinidad and Tobago?

While some may not think they have a problem with water or electricity when it comes to Y2K, experts think some thought should be given to the fact that many institutions rely on some component of computerisation either with computers or embedded chips.

Director of Solutions 2000, an Internet Service Provider (ISP), Edwin Workman, explained to Stabroek News that once a computer programme deals with dates then the user should worry about Y2K. However, while some persons may not have such a system, they may rely on something which has embedded chips that might. This would pose a problem with the system when it comes to Y2K compliance. The commercial banks in Guyana are fully computerised and some persons have expressed concern that their cash may not be safe in the banks if these institutions were not Y2K ready. However, officials from most banks have claimed their entities, if not quite Y2K ready, were almost there and the necessary changes would be completed before the end of the year.

Stabroek News was able to get official comments from most commercials banks on their Y2K status. The Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry wanted a written request for the information and there was not enough time to comply with this. The National Bank of Industry and Commerce had promised a press statement on its Y2K readiness, but this was not received up to the time of publishing of this article. Demerara Bank Limited and Citizens Bank as a result of having been established only a few years ago have Y2K compliant systems.

The consensus of most banking officials was that customers would not have to worry about their money nor data pertaining to their transactions. Should computers shut down, contingency plans would be activated; transactions would be done manually and data entered into the system afterwards.

Central bank set for millennium

"The Bank of Guyana (BOG) is in control of its Year 2000 project, it should meet the new millennium without major glitches," a document from the bank says.

The BOG's Y2K statement said that its progress was independently evaluated in March, by consultants attached to the Ministry of Finance. The statement said this was part of the evaluation conducted by the consultants for the entire public sector in Guyana.

The BOG formally started its Y2K project in June 1998, with the establishment of a Y2K committee at the executive level. According to the bank's statement which is found on its website, all departments are represented on this committee which is chaired by the assistant director, Internal Audit Department.

The purpose of the committee is to: inventorise all computer and computer-related systems within the bank; inventorise all systems that may contain embedded chips; test all computer systems for compliance and ensure that all systems with embedded chips are compliant by obtaining such confirmation from vendors; develop a plan to fix/repair/replace all non-compliant systems and to sensitise staff, the bank's suppliers and vendors and licenced financial institutions of Year 2000 issues.

The committee identified the potential impact of the Y2K problem at the bank. Detailed testing, according to the statement, was carried out to confirm compliance of all systems. Documentary evidence of the results of these tests was supplied to senior management for evaluation and implementation of an appropriate course of action as it relates in particular to systems that were proven non-compliant.

The bank's risk factors for management and technical skills were assessed as being "very good" by the consultants; time left, funding and contingency planning were also rated as being "very good," while its strategy and plan were described as "adequate."

Scotia Bank has plan in place for 'bug' When it comes to being Y2K compliant, the Bank of Nova Scotia is not only ready, but its contingency plans are completed and tested. To some Guyanese, a few aspects of the Scotia bank contingency plan may seem a bit far-fetched. One person accused the bank of looking at the millennium bug as a doomsday event. But, according to Operations Manager, Desiree Bhulai, the Canada-based bank was taking no chances. This is not by accident, since Canadian banks were ranked among organisations in the world best prepared for Y2K. The bank's contingency plan addresses the issues that are likely to arise from a partial or complete shutdown of the utility companies in any of the countries reporting and/or supported by Banking Operations International (Y2K-projects) and international banking. The document is intended to supplement the Disaster Back-up and Recovery (DBR) or the Business Resumption Plan (BRP).

The Nova Scotia plan covers three periods--pre event; the event and post event.

Pre event

The pre event period starts on December 30, 1999 and is described as the preparatory period. During this time a complete review of the impact of the events would take place. In addition, the bank would set up activities to be performed by selected groups or individuals. The bank, according to the plan, would ensure that the framework within which it operates during the event period addresses the needs of all the stakeholders.

It is expected that towards mid December 1999, all non essential activity would be curtailed and energies and resources would be devoted to preparations for the turn of the century.


The event period starts December 31, 1999 at 12:01 am and would last until midnight January 10, 2000 in the best and worst case scenarios. Otherwise, the event period would be extended as may be deemed fit.

Post event

The post event period starts at the end of the event period until March 4, 2000. It would consist mainly of assistance and support to the stricken areas and a confirmation that the leap year is or is not an issue.

The contingency plan covers two events--the loss of communication and the loss of power.

Scotia Bank in Guyana has four branches, one data centre, one commercial banking unit and a micro lending centre known as Scotia Enterprises.

The data centre is located in the main office and is equipped with a back-up generator. The commercial banking unit shares premises with the main office.

There is a PC software which allows for the capture of financial transactions through a PC onto a diskette. This diskette could be transported to the data centre for uploading onto the CAP system. In the event of a communication failure, the use of this software would greatly help the work flow.

The installation of PC data entry in branches located outside the capital was not considered due to their relative short distances from the main office and because there is ample space and facilities in the main office to accommodate data posting and processing for all of the branches.

According to Bhulai, one of the bank's primary concerns in the event of a disaster was security of staff. A task force set up by the bank would identify key security elements in the country and provide finalised guidelines/instructions to staff of all steps to follow in the event these key elements are in effect during the event period. The elements include; the unavailability of security guards/police officers; major civil unrest and emergency/medical services not available.

According to the plan, since the bank would be expecting an increase in customer traffic and additional cash holdings, negotiations would start to contract additional security guards for the event period.

In the event of communication failures, potential customers may panic and want to hold as much cash as possible; customers would have to use branch tellers to conduct their banking since alternative delivery channels such as ATMs would not be available.

This, Bhulai said would increase the amount of work for employees who would have to revert to manual/alternate processing which typically is more time consuming.

Come December 31, 1999 all Scotia Bank branches would be closed to the public at noon and all processing would have to be completed before 1:00 pm. This would allow for the completion of the end of day process as well as the printing of special reports before 11:00 pm.

The contingency plan rolls into the year 2000, where on January 1, managers would have to turn on taps and pull switches to see whether they work or whether they have been affected by the Y2K bug.

The plan emphasises the importance of keeping in touch with service providers such as telephone, electricity and water companies to obtain relevant information from them as it relates to their Y2K readiness.

Bank of Baroda updates system

Bank of Baroda Senior Manager, Ashok Dhingra, is assuring customers that the bank is Y2K compliant and therefore there would be no need for panic at the end of the year.

According to Dhingra, customers' money is still safer in the bank than at home.

Dhingra said the Bank of Baroda has 2,500 branches throughout the world which are using Y2K compliant software. He said the local bank is supplied with Y2K compliant software which is currently being used in the bank's head office in India.

The senior manager said that the bank has also changed its hardware. He said new Y2K compliant computers were purchased and are currently in use.

Dhingra explains that officials from the New York branch make fortnightly checks on the bank's progress.

Contingency and disaster recovery plans have been devised by a Y2K task force which had been set up by the parent bank. Dhingra assures that enough precautionary measures have been taken by the bank to ensure the safety of customers' monies.

GT&T ready for millennium - Information Systems director

Y2K Project Manager and Director of Information Systems of the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company Ltd (GT&T), Chris Etwaroo, said he and other officials were satisfied that the key utility company is Y2K ready.

Commercial banks depend on the fully computerised telecommunication company for transmittance, debit card and Automated Teller Machine (ATM) services.

Etwaroo said GT&T customers including the commercial banks, are kept informed about the progress of the company's Y2K project via various medium.

According to Etwaroo, the potential problems are associated with: the use of two character year fields and 00 being translated as 1900 rather than 2000; use of the two digit year in current programmes and date, such as DD/MM/YY, may mean the programmes automatically assume that this is pre-fixed with '19' instead of '20', thereby defaulting to the year 1900 instead of 2000; and the year 2000 being a leap year. He noted that the problem was occurring now, was global and no one could escape it and it had a fixed deadline.

GT&T millennium projects include strategy, scope and objective. Etwaroo, in a recent presentation, said the company's approach towards the millennium readiness was being guided by the fact that no value or current date would cause any interruption in operation; date-based functionality must behave consistently for dates prior to, during and after the year 2000; in all data storage, the century in any date must be specified either explicitly or by unambiguous algorithms or inferencing rules and that the Year 2000 must be recognised as a leap year.

The project manager explained that the company had divided its project into seven phases. Phase one deals with impact analysis/awareness and was completed in July of 1997. Phase two covers inventories of hardware, operating systems, software applications (data sensitive) and was completed in January 1998. Phase three, completed in June 1998 looked at network equipment, embedded systems, customer equipment. Phase four deals with compliance statements from suppliers and manufacturers, critical suppliers and manufacturers (Nortel IBM), is non-critical and has been completed. The fifth phase, which is ongoing, looks at billing, service order and trouble ticket applications. Phase six, which is the company's contingency plan, and phase seven, where testing ends are also ongoing.

Etwaroo said that the Year 2000 code is promoted into the system and is being used "live" which allows the company to "fix" any unforeseeable problems in the system.

Extensive testing has been undertaken by the company to confirm Y2K readiness of hardware and software. He said test plans and test results are formally documented. Test dates include December 31, the roll-over; January 1, 2000 a Saturday; January 2, 2000, the first date change; January 3, 2000, the first Monday; February 29, 2000 and March 1, 2000.

The director of Information Systems, explaining why the company was comfortable and its confidence high, said GT&T had been addressing the Year 2000 challenge since 1997, when a year 2000 project office headed by him was established. The Y2K team comprises highly technical specialists and experts within the company, he said. He said it was recognised that the problem was here and that it had to be dealt with intelligently and effectively.

Etwaroo said that GT&T would be Y2K ready, but if other players in other countries which it relies on to conduct its service were not ready, problems could arise. He said research showed that most of the companies were. So far, companies which GT&T depends on, such as Nortel and others, have issued statements of Y2K compliance.

Should there be a shut down of the system, records or historical data would be safely stored. He said data such as applications for telephones, billing and complaints are all stored in one major system which is Year 2000 ready. If the computers refuse to work come year 2000, receipts would be written by hand and the information filed when the system is rebooted.

GT&T, according to Etwaroo, has established links with Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago to share their trunk for international calls if the need arises. He said those countries' telephone companies use the same type of switch used by GT&T to route their international traffic.

He said that Nortel was currently in the last phase of upgrading the Lethem, Kwakwani, Ituni and Port Kaituma exchanges.

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