The Bug: Interview with Gwynneth Flower Part 1

Yesterday saw the launch of Pledge 2000, a government initiative which tries to persuade businesses to work together to overcome the millennium bug.

Gwynneth Flower, MD of Action 2000 took time out of her hectic schedule to speak to ZDNet UK News Editor, Richard Barry, about her hopes for the initiative.

ZDNet: We're getting a lot of mail from people in small businesses particularly, who don't believe Action 2000 is targeting them effectively. What's your reaction to that?

GF: We know from our research that awareness is very high, it's very near 100 percent but we also know that the perception of what the client needs is inadequate. The perception is normally: I've got a laptop or a PC or a few network computers and they're OK but of course what they don't do is look at the environment, things like environment control systems, security devices, burglar and surveillance alarms or even the engine management systems of vehicles and the second key thing they don't look at of course is supply chain. As we've said today you can be brought down by a failure of one of your suppliers as easily as if you had done nothing yourself. So even the little guys at the bottom of the chain, they're supplying someone further up they need to make sure that all that has been checked and addressed.

So what we need to do now is to change the perception. There's a vacuum at the moment which does not appreciate the size of the task that need to be addressed.

If you look at the advertisements this week they take them through a whole inventory of actions that need to be taken and items that need to be addressed. As we know, even in our homes today the microprocessor is rampant, it's everywhere. Part of the work people do will even to advise householders. What is the threat? What could happen? And how do you address it? We're obviously worried about non-technical people.

Speaking of non-technical people, there were some articles this week saying the insurance companies had stepped away from the issue, saying `you're on your own guys'. No one is taking responsibility so legal action is negated. This Pledge 2000 effort could be seen as a simple gesture because it has no legal teeth...

GF: Well the pledge is of course aimed at businesses and does not in any way remove people's legal rights. What we're saying is, don't go down that legal route now. A: the legal system takes such a long time and if by taking action today you cause your so-called trading partners to not co-operate or share information with you, you're probably going to exacerbate the problem and make the risk of failure even greater.

What we're saying is, there may be grounds down stream but at the moment the best way of ensuring survival, because that's what we're talking about -- it's about business survival, is to work together with a partnership approach and to trust each other. And the Pledge, you will notice, actually says we undertake not to use the information we will get from you to commercial advantage. So the threat that many companies see - you'll use that information to find out all about me and you'll use that to develop your business at the expense of mine has been removed.

Has that been removed, or is that just a nice ideal?

Well we're saying: "Trust us." As I said earlier, united we can win through here, divided we will sure as anything fall." If companies sit back and say, `within the perimeter fence of my organisation I'm home and dandy', you'll still suffer problems from the bug because you have to trade, you have links. You could also have problems with the infrastructure: we all need water, electricity and gas to run your business. You need trading partners. You won't have those if they are not exacted and tested and of course the smaller your business the greater the risk. Some businesses can't afford to lose £18m, some can't afford to lose £18,000 or even £1,800. It could be a question of life or death. If you are a small business don't think you haven't got a problem because you have. They may be fairly straightforward to answer because you won't have complex systems but Joe Bloggs, say employing ten people may still have a problem.

Part II to follow