PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

Bug, What Bug..?
April 2000

I cheated and kept this piece from the screaming sub-editors until after the turn of the (pseudo) millennium, because I write this on the second day back after the big event, and there seems to be rather less trouble than anticipated. Much to the disappointment of TV pundits like the BBC’s Peter Snow who spent his millennium day standing in front of a video wall, praying for doom and disaster to turn his boring old grey map of the world into vibrant red.

So, on the one hand are those £100 an hour consultants smugly claiming the credit for having got it right, and on the other we have the cynical customers, wondering aloud if there was actually anything to get so excited about. And the answer is, we shall probably never really know.

But even the smug Unix folks have been caught out with simple PERL script errors giving dates on web sites like 01/01/19100. Without work, the millennium effect (let’s not call it a bug) would certainly have been rampant in systems, and causing all sorts of mayhem, but was it really worth the alleged £300bn that the UK has paid..?

I share the view that it will be several months before everything is flushed through all the systems, and that there will be oddities arising for years to come, but the most awkward fact of the matter that seems inescapable is that countries that took a cavalier attitude to the bug “we’ll fix them as they crop up” have fared no worse than the UK with it’s £300bn investment in avoiding any bug manifestations. Incidentally, £300bn seems like an awful lot. I think that’s actually about 101p in the pound on income tax if it was taken as a government revenue item. So can that really be true..? I guess that includes the costs of upgrading complete systems that were due to be revamped anyway.

So there is about to be a flood of Millennium consultants back on the contractor market after their year in tax exile on a beach somewhere in the West Indies. And just you wait for the hype that will be built up to celebrate the “real millennium”; I’m certain the IT industry will have another go at scare mongering – how could it resist after the startling success of the Y2K bonanza..?

The only millennium bug that got me (like many others) was the flu, and I suspect that if 30% of the alleged amount of money the world spent on the Y2K issue was invested in medical research, we would probably have a viable flu remedy and a cure for much else besides. So here we are, just a year away from a new millennium, and we still seem to have very little sense of proportion in the real world.

Imagine the cost benefits of controlling something like influenza; something that is extremely predictable in its deleterious effects (both in cash and lives), that turns up every year – not just once in a thousand. In other words, it’s business as usual for the human race. And now to top it all, the government is funding a task force to go and do some meteor and comet spotting. Imagine what would it be worth to the aerospace industry to have this lot “discover” that there is a one in a thousand chance of some lump of rock bashing into us, that might be deflected by the fruits of a space development programme costing, say, £300bn..? 

Send for Bruce Willis!