SYDNEY, Australia -- The Year 2000 "Millennium Bug" software problem could cost Australian companies almost U.S. $7 billion and has already started wreaking havoc in some of the country's largest organizations, according to a new survey.
Among the problems cropping up now for big business are: the inability to issue licenses beyond 1999, the inability to issue credit cards dated 2000 or beyond and the prepayment of premiums for three years instead being calculated as 95 years in arrears.
Some of the more serious include CAT scanners in hospitals locking up when tested for the year 2000, the inability of medical companies to place expiration dates on medication post 2000 and critical care patient monitoring equipment failing in some circumstances.
Government agencies are falling so far behind the private sector in the race to safeguard computer systems from the bug that they face a "severe risk" of disruption to services if the situation doesn't change.
Coopers and Lybrand, which conducted the survey of more than 300 of Australia's top private and public sector organizations, found numerous public services are under threat because governments are lagging as much as 6-12 months behind.
Coopers and Lybrand partner Mike Bridge said Millennium Bug-related costs are tipped to soar as the race against time intensifies.
Most computers were originally programmed to recognize only the two final digits in a year so when their internal calendars hit the year 2000 they will read it as 00 and recognize it as 1900, unless reprogrammed.
Bridge warned many companies had failed to think of the effects on non-IT equipment such as security systems and factory equipment and supply chains in their cost estimates.
Bridge said he believed the cost of the bug problems will end up close to U.S. $7 billion.
Previous government estimates put the cost between U.S. $1 billion and 2 billion.
Almost a third of companies surveyed said they had already begun to experience Year 2000 compliance problems and despite plans by 60 percent of those questioned to complete their Year 2000 projects few of the 300-odd companies were close to doing so.