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Public sector trails in Y2K fixes

The public sector's computer systems continue to be less prepared for the Year 2000 than those in the private sector, according to a study.

Despite growing criticism and oversight by federal and state legislators, the public sector's computer systems continue to be less prepared for the Year 2000 than those in the private sector, according to a study released today.

The study, completed by Cap Gemini America, a technology services and consulting group, also found that among the nation's biggest corporations, the health, transportation, and utility industries are furthest behind in dealing with Year 2000 computer problems.

Topping the list of the nation's biggest corporations cleansing the Y2K glitch from their computer systems are ones in the software, financial services, computer hardware, manufacturing and telecommunications, followed by businesses in the aerospace, oil and gas, pharmaceutical, and distribution industries, the study found.

The Cap Gemini survey consisted of interviews of IT managers at 116 of the nation's corporations and 14 government agencies. The survey's ranking system of Year 2000 readiness placed the public sector 16 percent behind the least prepared private industry category. The local, state, and federal government sector scored a "67" on a 0-to-100 preparedness scale with 100 being most prepared, while private sector scores ranged from "80," for the health industry, to "88," for the software industry.

Public sector respondents appear to be less prepared for the year 2000 than the private industry and that could potentially affect delivery of government services, said Jim Woodward, senior vice president of Cap Gemini America and head of its TransMillennium Services Group, which conducted the survey. "The deadline is so close that companies that haven't started their projects," will find it difficult to do a complete Y2K project before the century date change.

The incidence of Year 2000-related system crashes is expected to rise significantly next year, the study found. While 40 percent of the corporations surveyed last month said they had already experienced such breakdowns, 86 percent of those responding to the current survey "expect an increase in systems failures after January 1999."

In addition, 55 percent of the respondents said they would be unlikely to do business with non-Year 2000-compliant suppliers of products and services.

During a press conference for the Cap Gemini study, John D. Ogens, director of the Year 2000 Global Year 2000 Program at the Monsato Company in St. Louis, Missouri, said his company is currently checking out business partners on its supply chain to make sure they have Y2K projects in place. If companies are lacking a Y2K plan of attack, "our drop date is the fourth quarter of 1999, and if they aren't ready before that, we look for alternative partners."

Survey respondents said they plan to accomplish the bulk of their Year 2000 work during 1999. With just more than 500 days to go, only 15 percent expect that more than three quarters of their "critical systems" will be "completely tested and compliant" by January 1, 1999. However, a majority of the respondents expect at least 76 percent of these systems to be compliant by January 2000.

The Y2K bug comes from antiquated hardware and software formats that denote years in two-digit formats, such as "98" for 1998 and "99" for 1999. The glitch will occur in 2000, when computers are either fooled into thinking the year is 1900 or interpret the 2000 as a meaningless "00." The glitch could throw out of whack everything from bank systems to building security procedures, critics warn.

Although Cap Gemini is a technology tools and services consultant group, its executives defended their survey as not being based in self-fulfilling incentives, but rather as a reflection of the realities of the information technology industry.

The survey itself was actually conducted by Rubin Systems. Howard Rubin chairs the Computer Science Department at the City University of New York's Hunter College and is CEO of Rubin Systems.