Y2K forum highlights potential hotspots

The biggest problem for the telecommunications industry as the clock rolls over to the year 2000 could be unpredictable customer behaviour, said an industry spokeswoman at a Y2K forum held in Sydney today.

Johanna Plante from the Australian Communication Industry Forum, said that customers making phone calls just after midnight December 31, to check that their telephones still work, could create network congestion that could be mistaken as a Y2K problem.

"If everyone does make phone calls at the same time, it may lead to congestion. The second possibility is that customers will make phone calls to their friends in other time zones to let them know they're in the new millennium," she said. The latter though, is less likely, she said, because "everyone will get carried away with having a good time".

Plante, who spoke at the year2k Industry Program's National Infrastructure Forum in Sydney today, is cautioning Australians to not behave abnormally in their telecommunications use over the new year.

Small biz still a problem

While big business and government agencies have completed or are well on their way to finalising Y2K work, the small business sector is still of concern, according to Maurice Newman, chairman of the Federal Government's Y2K Steering Committee.

"It has been harder to connect Y2K to small business," he said. "There are some who don't think they have technology that will be affected. There are some who will just wait for a workaround because they don't believe their technology is mission critical. And there are some just concentrating on this month's cashflow because the year 2000 is five months away."

According to Graeme Inchely, CEO of the year 2000 strategy for industry, the Y2K fix for a small organisation with two or three people using a simple accounting package, could be as easy as an upgrade.

"For small organisations it may be as simple as taking a look at their systems and spending some money," Inchely said. "The problem will be when everybody leaves it to the end of the year and scrambles."

Trading worries

Senator Ian Campbell, who has responsibility for Y2K in the Federal Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, envisages another problem that could impact on the standard of living for Australians, when local importers and exporters are affected by trading partners of nations behind in Y2K work.

"I think we will be affected, there's no doubt about it," he said.

"We rely for our living standards on trade with international partners and 30 per cent of those are within our region -- many nations of which are behind the eight-ball."

Campbell has announced he will hold an industry roundtable in September with a cross-section of Australia's importers and exporters, to find out first-hand how supply chains will be potentially affected.

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