The Y2k bug bites back

The festive holidays are behind us and it won’t be long before we’re into February. I had to sign and date a legal document the other day – it was the first time I’d written the year 2020. It’s not like it used to be – we’d have written half a dozen cheques by now and got the year wrong on at least three of them! Cheques have largely disappeared, thanks to automation (or “digitalisationalism strategy”, or whatever new buzzword the big consultants are trying to get into the airwaves).

Reflecting on the New Year, it was interesting to see that the Y2k issue reared its ugly head and bit some of the finance institutions in the bum.

Twenty years on!    Who would have thought it?

It came about as a result of a temporary work-around in a piece of third-party software that several banks and related finance companies use. In the stressed run-up to the year 2000, someone had the bright idea of doing a sticking plaster job by checking the year instead of changing all the year references to 4 digits.

If yy is less than 20

Then Year = 20yy

Else Year = 19yy

Marvellous. Just make a note to change it again before the 31st of December 2019.

“Sure. That’ll be fine. We’ve got 20 years to sort it out. Easy!”

I can’t imagine it would have been easy to troubleshoot a Year2000 bug in January 2020. Let’s face it, when you’re trying to determine the root cause of a problem the thought “I wonder if someone changed this code 20 years ago”  isn’t the first thing that springs to mind.

I don’t know how many companies were tripped up by this, but I suspect there were at least 3.

My local BBC station “Look North” covered a story about a glitch at Yorkshire Bank in the first few days of January. During the piece they linked to an IT industry “expert” in another BBC studio, presumably London or Manchester. The “expert” simply repeated what the local news reporter had said then made some bland comment about banks having legacy systems.

How bland. How uninformative. Oh, how I cringed when I heard that tired old “legacy” term being trotted out again.

This does highlight a big issue with IT systems – no matter whether they’re in banks, retail, transport, or wherever – whether they’re new or old. All IT systems have little gremlins like this hidden under the covers. Many are known about by the IT teams – but the technicians aren’t given the time to fix these bugs because they’re low priority. They’re deemed to be low risk. And they’re definitely not as sexy as the new Gee-Whizz system that the chief execs want written for deployment yesterday.

Resilience invariably takes a back seat behind sexy new stuff.

If you’re bucking that trend and trying to make your IT operation more resilient, we’d love to hear from you.  Drop us an email or pick up the phone and call us.

Brian Lancaster

07470 002019  /  0114 398 4344