ESCAP recommendations on the year 2000 problem
year ago, the Working Group of Statistical Experts
expressed deep concern about the impact of the
year 2000 (Y2K) problem(1)
in the region in general, and in statistical
offices in particular. It urged government offices
to tackle the problem immediately and adopted
a set of recommendations for governments. It
also requested the Commission to discuss the
Y2K problem at its fifty-fourth session in April
1998. Subsequently, the Commission considered
the matter at its fifty-fourth session and made
recommendations for governments. As a follow-up
to another recommendation of the Working Group,
the secretariat and the Statistical Institute
for Asia and the Pacific (SIAP) organized a
on the Year 2000 Problem in Computers and Strategic
Issues for National Statistical Offices
on 18 and 19 June 1998. That Workshop targeted
its recommendations to national statistical
offices in a format that could be adapted and
followed by other government offices as well.
2. The following is a summary of the recommendations
made by the Working Group of Statistical Experts
at its tenth session (Bangkok, 11-14 November
- The Chairperson of
the Committee on Statistics, the secretariat
and the members of the United Nations Statistical
Commission from the region should raise
the issue at the forthcoming session of
- The secretariat should
create awareness of the Y2K problem in the
countries of the region by compiling information
in non-technical language and disseminating
it widely through its publications and Web
- The secretariat and
national statistical offices should facilitate
the sharing of experience in the region,
especially from governments and national
statistical offices that have tackled the
problem with some success; however, national
statistical offices should not wait for
information about the experience of other
countries since their solutions were probably
far from complete.
- The secretariat should
approach the donor of the planned seminar
on information technology applications on
the possibility of placing the Y2K issue
on the agenda and of holding the seminar
early in 1998.
- The secretariat should
investigate whether meetings on the Y2K
issue could be held soon outside the standard
project funding cycle.
- SIAP should investigate
whether it could organize a training event
early in 1998 on the Y2K issue.
3. At its fifty-fourth session, held at Bangkok
from 16 to 22 April 1998, the Commission made
the following observations and recommendations:
- The Commission
expressed deep concern about the predicted
disruptions that the Y2K problem in computers
and embedded chips was likely to cause at
the national, regional and global levels.
Noting with concern the slow start made
by many countries of the region in tackling
the problem, it urged all governments to
make its resolution a high priority. The
Commission recognized that the problem was
not restricted to statistics, but also affected
infrastructure services such as electricity
supply and telecommunications, as well as
banking and other systems. The Commission
emphasized that it was the responsibility
of top-level management to initiate organization-wide
action to address the issue. For identification
and resolution of the problem, the Commission
recommended the use of multidisciplinary
teams that periodically reported on progress
to high-level management.
- As an immediate measure,
the Commission recommended that organizations
demand guarantees from suppliers that all
new software and equipment were year 2000
compliant. The Commission advised all organizations
to make contingency plans in case of failure
of their own systems or of external or foreign
systems on which they were increasingly
dependent. Given the urgency of the situation,
the impending high work volume in fixing
existing systems meant that mission-critical
applications had to be given the highest
priority. The Commission warned that any
delays were likely to increase the modification
cost and make the timely resolution of the
problem very difficult, as the required
skills were already in short supply.
- The Commission endorsed
the recommendations of the Working Group
of Statistical Experts in regard to the
Y2K problem. While recognizing that the
problem could only be solved at the level
of each organization, the Commission encouraged
all members to share their experiences in
resolving the year 2000 problem and asked
the secretariat to facilitate such regional
4. The recommendations of the Workshop on the
Year 2000 Problem in Computers and Strategic
Issues for National Statistical Offices, which
was held at Bangkok on 18 and 19 June 1998,
are summarized below in an action-oriented format.
(The report of the Workshop, containing more
detailed information about approaches to resolve
the year 2000 problem, is available as a background
- Stop waiting
for somebody to come to study and fix Y2K
problems. That is not going to happen. Accept
ownership of systems and full responsibility
for them. Lack of technological expertise
is not an acceptable excuse for inaction.
- Appoint immediately
a full-time Y2K coordinator, with managerial
skills and the necessary authority to initiate
actions and delegate responsibilities.
- Back-up data and
systems securely before doing any Y2K compliance
testing. Ensure that the back-up data can
be read. Document back-ups properly.
- Use all talents within
the organization to create multidisciplinary
teams to undertake step-wise rectification.
Include a mix of management staff, information
technology (IT) staff, and substantive experts.
Locate them together and relieve them of
other responsibilities to the extent possible.
- Ensure that anything
new developed or purchased is Y2K compliant.
- Use industry standard
in achieving Y2K compliance, but simplify
where possible. Information is available
through the Internet, literature and IT
- Include embedded
chips in the Y2K inventory and seek out
compliance information for them.
- Start conversion
of mission-critical systems in priority
- Remember that, although
necessary, awareness campaigns or lengthy
planning processes will not resolve Y2K
problems. Start practical work immediately.
- Do not wait for funding
before starting. A lot of preparatory work
can be done without separate funding, especially
in awareness creation, in preparation of
an inventory of affected items, and in seeking
compliance information from vendors.(3)
- Do not rely on general
compliance statements.Be specific when requesting
compliance information from equipment and
software suppliers. Ask when compliant replacements
will become available, and how they will
be installed and operationalized.
- Demonstrate the impact
of non-compliant components and systems
to management by writing down what would
happen if each affected system was not available.
- Transmit those technology
and business assessments to top management
and to the authority providing the budget.
- Enlist the support
of important clients to strengthen Y2K funding
- Concentrate on resolving
only the Y2K problem itself. Do not attempt
to simultaneously improve the functionality
or other features of existing systems.
- Slow down or postpone
new IT development to conserve resources.
- Remember that Y2K
projects carry pitfalls of typical IT projects,
including overly optimistic scheduling,
poor documentation and incomplete debugging.
Projects have a tendency to drag on longer
than initially planned.
- Make a contingency
plan at an early stage.
- Include a worst-case
scenario in the contingency plan.
- Document all Y2K
efforts from the beginning. That written
evidence may be invaluable later.
- Do not let top executives
delegate or outsource their responsibility
(it is not possible). Y2K compliance is
a major business issue; the alternative
is often a closure of operations.
- Disseminate these
recommendations to all staff in the organization.
5. Apart from facilitating the above intergovernmental
and technical meetings, the secretariat has
played an advocacy role through its Web site,
Computerization Newsletter, the Statistical
Newsletter and press
releases. The media has reported on the
Y2K activities of ESCAP in a positive way, and
the Y2K pages of ESCAP on the Web (http://www.unescap.org/stat/gc/escapy2k.asp)
have been some of the most accessed pages at
the ESCAP Web site.
Selected Y2K policy issues
6. Many organizations, especially in developed
countries, have adopted open disclosure policies
with regard to their own Y2K efforts. That practice,
which can also be found in the public sector,
demonstrates to other organizations the seriousness
with which the issue is handled, and exposes
the plans to the scrutiny of independent experts.
If the efforts are perceived to be concrete
and sufficient, the public-at-large and business
partners will be reassured that cooperation
and services will continue uninterrupted.
7. In making systems Y2K compliant, the main
responsibility rests normally with the executives
of individual organizations and agencies. The
central government acts as a role model in addressing
the problem in public and plays a practical
role as an authority for providing (additional)
funding. In several countries, a coordinating
agency has been appointed to create awareness
among the public sector organizations, to monitor
government-wide progress and, in some cases,
to offer practical advice in systems renovation.
As part of its monitoring function, the central
government should appraise whether the steps
being taken by various government agencies appear
to be prudent and intervene immediately if preparations
8. In intergovernmental forums, the general
preparedness level for the year 2000 in Asia
and the Pacific is perceived as far from satisfactory.
However, the awareness level has clearly been
increasing recently, and the key to problem
resolution is now on ways of changing the awareness
into immediate and effective action. That action,
which includes the inventory, testing and remediation
work, can be initiated and carried out only
by system owners. The ownership, as emphasized
in the above recommendations, starts from the
highest echelons and involves equally IT, management
and other staff of the organization.
9. The escalation of economic crises in South-East
Asia and the Russian Federation has taken most
attention of decision makers and makes the resolution
of the Y2K problem very challenging. In many
instances, organizations have had to manage
within existing or even reduced budget allocations.
This contrasts with the global experience that
the initial cost-effort estimates tend to be
unrealistically low, and that private sector
organizations are spending much more in Y2K
resolution than public sector organizations
of similar size.
10. With regard to in-house applications, it
is too late to regard replacement as a preferred
solution. Except for those extremely rare cases
where automated solutions can be applied, the
fixing of the "bug" in custom-made systems often
involves laborious line-by-line checking of
program codes. Some of the work can be outsourced,
but it may be difficult to find the necessary
expertise. Even if external resources are available,
a turnkey solution is not possible as the detection
of the problem codes and testing of the systems
always require involvement of staff who developed
them or who are maintaining them. It is therefore
not surprising that most large organizations
in developed countries have chosen to tackle
the problem internally.
11. Another reason in favour of internal action
is that the vendors of software and equipment
are unlikely to come forward and offer unsolicited
solutions, even if they know that their products
are not Y2K compliant. Moreover, in the absence
of legislation that would make them liable for
Y2K problem damages, they are likely to be able
to escape litigation attempted against them.
International Y2K issues
12. Achievement of internal compliance does
not necessarily shield organizations from the
adverse effects of the problem. Public and private
sector organizations alike can be directly affected
by external factors that arise from incompatibility
of data suppliers, or from Y2K failures of international
computer and telecommunications networks. In
addition, their business operations might be
affected (non-electronically) by Y2K failures
elsewhere in the society. The Y2K compatibility
of the Internet, international telecommunications
carriers and international banking operations
is under intensive scrutiny by various task
forces and working groups formed by involved
parties. The resolution of such international
Y2K problems poses extraordinary challenges
as multiparty testing (end-to-end and industry-wide
testing) cannot be conveniently done without
disrupting day-to-day operations.
13. The following links on the worldwide net
of the Internet provide more information about
international compliance issues:
- The Year 2000
Working Group of the Internet Engineering
Task Force, http://www.ietf.org/ids.by.wg/2000.html
- International Telecommunication
Union Year 2000 Task Force, http://www.itu.int/y2k/
- "Universal year
2000 problem", a paper by the secretariat
presented at the ESCAP/SIAP Y2K Workshop (STAT/SIAP/Y2K/6),
- Joint Year 2000 Council,
c/o Bank for International Settlements, http://www.bis.org/ongoing/index.htm.
See also at this site "Supervisory guidance
on the independent assessment of financial
institution year 2000 preparations", http://www.bis.org/ongoing/guidance.pdf
and "Testing for year 2000 readiness", http://www.bis.org/ongoing/testing.pdf.
14. The General Assembly adopted on 26 June
1998 resolution 52/233 entitled "Global implications
of the year 2000 date conversion problem of
That resolution requested all Member States
to attach a high priority to raising the level
of awareness, both by ensuring that the private
sector was fully engaged in addressing the year
2000 problem and by tackling the problem in
those systems within their own control, and
to consider, inter alia, the appointment
of a nationwide coordinator for that purpose.
It also requested the Economic and Social Council
to prepare guidelines to enable Member States
to address the diverse aspects of the Y2K problem.
Those guidelines, approved in July 1998 as per
document E/1998/L.40 (http://www.un.org/members/yr2000/yr2000.htm),
advise governments to establish general contingency
plans for all systems and activities. In case
the year 2000 compliance cannot be achieved
by 31 December 1999, some critical systems may
have to be temporarily decommissioned and replaced
by the back-up processes. The guidelines also
call for an awareness campaign targeted towards
small businesses and local governments. The
General Assembly continues to discuss the global
implications of the year 2000 date conversion
problem of computers at its fifty-third session,
which started in September 1998.
Suggested action by the Committee
15. Country papers made available to the eleventh
session of the Committee are expected to summarize
the progress made in resolving the Y2K problem
in the public sector in general, and in national
statistical offices in particular. The Committee
may wish to urge member governments to give
the highest possible priority to examining mission-critical
public systems for the presence of the Y2K problem,
to assess its impact on daily operations, and
to proceed to fix malfunctioning systems. It
may stress the need to maintain continued high
awareness and persistence of action and monitoring
among decision makers, executives and staff
in all government departments through 1999.
The still-so-prevalent belief of the problem's
non-existence must be replaced with systematic
and arduous investigation and testing, and the
belatedness of other organizations or other
countries must not be a consolation for their
16. Bearing in mind the financial and human
resource constraints of the secretariat to provide
tangible assistance in the remediation work
itself, and considering the lateness of the
hour for general awareness creation, the Committee
may wish to discuss what kind of Y2K problem
activities the Commission and its secretariat
should undertake in 1999 and 2000.
Other strategic issues
17. The year 2000 problem resolution continues
to be an overriding IT issue for all governments,
and it must be addressed even at the cost of
postponing and delaying new IT development projects.
Therefore, the Committee may wish to restrict
its general IT discussion to the Y2K problem.
The Committee may, however, take a note of the
fact that IT innovations are made at a fascinating
speed that shows no signs of slowing down. Major
breakthroughs have been made in several areas
of interest to governments, including microprocessor
technology (for example, ever faster Pentium
II processors, success in using copper conductors
in microchips), data storage, wireless telecommunications
(faster data transfer), networking (breakthroughs
of Internet technologies in enterprise solutions)
and electronic commerce (secure payment technologies).
Governments need to keep monitoring these and
other mainstream technology developments, since
they open up opportunities for new public (and
private) services and facilitate the development
of government intranets. They also have policy
implications in many areas, including national
infrastructure development and trade facilitation.
The year 2000 problem refers to the inability
of electronic applications (computers and systems
with embedded chips) to handle correctly information
pertaining to dates at the turn of the century.
It is caused by the once-rational decision to
code year information with two digits. The term
"millennium bug" is misleading as the problem
is (mainly) related to the change of the century
and arises from a programming standard, and
not from errors in writing the program code
("bugs"). Many systems will experience Y2K problems
on 1 January 2000, or even before that, when
systems roll over to cover time periods reaching
beyond that date.
The "industry standard" approach may include
the following: (a) development of a strategic
approach, including assignment of responsibility
and accountability; (b) creation of organizational
awareness; (c) Y2K inventory of hardware, software,
embedded systems; (d) assessment of actions
and development of detailed plans; (e) renovation
of systems, applications and equipment; (f)
validation of the renovation through testing;
(g) implementation of tested, compliant systems;
and (h) contingency planning. Although contingency
planning appears in this list last, it should
be done as early as possible, and updated as
more information becomes available.
information on compliance can be found for instance
in the following Web sites: The United States
General Services Administration, compliance
of telecommunications products and services,
compliance of building systems products, http://globe.lmi.org/lmi_pbs/y2kproducts/.
The Food and Drug Administration site on the
impact on biomedical equipment, http://www.fda.gov/cdrh/yr2000/year2000.html.
See also the United States Federal Government
Gateway for Year 2000 Information Directories,
including its international links, http://www.itpolicy.gsa.gov/mks/yr2000/g7yr2000.htm.