The euro - beware of distant elephants

Analysis: The euro is a long way off but you should check its implications now. And your Y2K experience may not help you...
Written by Jane Oliver, Contributor
"Euro creep" is coming. In fact it's here. The invasion of the euro is slow but inexorable. Just a few weeks ago, there were bookies accepting euros at Cheltenham, and larger stores in and around the UK are training staff to deal with the euro. Talk of the euro is pervasive and the inevitability of its arrival is like waiting for a baby to be born. You know it's going to happen, but you're not sure exactly when, or what you're going to do with it when it arrives. Of the many ifs, buts, whens and hows connected to the euro, one of the first is, "How is it actually going to happen in the UK?" The decision to hold a referendum (d-day) will be made in May 2003 and the go-ahead hangs on the government deciding whether the five economic tests are met. Pro-European government ministers are also lobbying hard to try to ensure that the Queen's speech in November contains an imperative to hold a euro referendum. When the tests are met, the decision will be made and the referendum will be held roughly four months later. Assuming the referendum takes place and we get a 'yes' vote we will then have roughly two years before euro notes replace the pound. And in the interim, approximately five to six months after the referendum, sterling will be locked into the euro currency. It is a strong possibility that sometime during 2005 we will wave a final farewell to the pound. There are many comparisons being made between the issues expected here and the ones experienced with Y2K, but with some fundamental differences. First, take-up of the euro is a business issue with a technical impact, whereas Y2K was a technical issue with a business impact. So you need to deal with the business issues first and then move on to the technical ramifications. The similarity between the euro issues and Y2K provokes more questions. For example, a lot of auditing work was done on computer systems in the lead up to Y2K -- will that information not be useful? At this point you should hear the hollow laughter of a network manager explaining that it is very unlikely that any information gathered culled during the run-up to Y2K will be relevant. Not only was there no obligation to keep the data up to date, but most companies have been through a boom and bust since 2000 that has led to high staff turnover, company takeovers, mergers and so on. Maintaining valid inventory information through this would have been nigh on impossible. It's clear then that companies will have to start from scratch. And as with any of these tasks, time is of the essence. An "Impact Analysis" is what you need to do first. By typing "impact analysis euro" or something similar into Google you will get a plethora of information. The bottom line is that you need to do a top-down analysis of all your systems to see if any consolidation of data, applications and systems can be achieved. Once this (rather simplified here) has been achieved, you should be able to plan how you can best meld these changes and convert your data efficiently. You must provide ample tracking to keep a check on discrepancies. It is not as easy as this sounds, of course.... There is a saying about distant elephants -- "from far away, even elephants look small; but when you come up close, they are as large as they always are" -- that rings disturbingly true about the issues surrounding the euro. So if you are going to do nothing else until the promise of the euro is more than a distant elephant you should at the very least do an impact analysis. If you are taking this seriously and want to be ahead of the euro game, one of the next things on your agenda should be to work out the technical details of the original plan -- the conversion methodology -- and test it, then test it again and again... If there are any discrepancies in your data you have to know where and why they are occurring and be able to put them right. No easy task, but absolutely critical. At this point you also need to take into consideration how far back in your archives do you either need or want to convert? The last point to make here raises yet another question -- what is happening at the desktop? Currently the desktop is not managed at all, and there must be a ridiculously high number of quite large and pretty complex spreadsheets out there, used for business processes. No-one knows anything about the formulae, let alone how to convert them. Here are just a few of the quite basic problems to be faced, and we have only really scratched the surface. But one point in our favour is that the whole (well, the majority) of Europe has already done this, so we should be able to gain experience from them. The overriding message is that what you really need to do is "start ahead of time", "leave yourself plenty of time", "start now", and so on. Otherwise you'll be doing an impression of the start of Four Weddings and a Funeral, running round shouting expletives at no-one in particular and only partially dressed.
Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Go to the Tech Update forum. Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom.

Editorial standards