Most large UK companies are well advanced in the preparation of
their IT systems for the year 2000 (Y2K), however there are still
communications issues to address - in particular recognising the
potential threat of Y2K to corporate brands.
In October 1998 leading research analysts, the Garner Group, estimated
that only 15 per cent of businesses in the US or UK would experience
Y2K-related business problems and 90 per cent will fix their problems
within three days. However, they believed the percentage would go up to
an alarming 30 to 50 per cent in continental Europe.
The likelihood is that we are unlikely to see major failures in the
provision of basic services over the new year period. Safety-critical
systems, such as air traffic control, appear, by all accounts, to be
Nevertheless, most companies are still unprepared for Y2K in terms of
reputation enhancement and protection planning.
It is still seen by most top management as a technical, rather than a
business problem. It is not enough to ensure your own systems are
What if a competitor or a sister company in a developing country has a
problem? With the speed of global communications today, a combination of
media ignorance and corporate ill-preparedness could cause permanent
damage to the brand of any organisation related to the affected
The real challenge now is to ensure that senior management recognises
the brand issue, engage their IT department counterparts in a discussion
of communications policy and, together, agree a policy which will help
drive Y2K communications requirements across the organisation.
The best way to persuade management that the issue requires attention is
to draw parallels with other business-critical issues such as fraud,
environmental protection and product recalls. The lessons learnt from
these case studies can put Y2K discussion in a new light.
It will also highlight the need for pro-active communications to all
audiences, especially staff, in advance of the day of reckoning and the
need to scenario-plan communications requirements if public concern gets
out of hand.
Organisations need to start communicating pro-actively to all audiences
from now about their progress towards Y2K compliance - even if they
believe they have, and will continue to have, some vulnerabilities.
Management of exposure as well as the exposure itself is a critical
Although there are clearly legal arguments not to do so, we believe that
it is too late to start communicating when the climate of public concern
All staff need to know the state their company’s Y2K programme is in and
how they can help to educate and reassess all the company’s key
Ignorance will be dangerous as we near the end of the year.
Moreover, for understandable reasons, the media is starved of companies
willing to talk about their Y2K programmes. Like any issue of concern,
openness is vital. While the first companies to put their heads over the
parapet may increase their vulnerability, they will be able to show
leadership, corporate responsibility and concern for the well-being of
their staff, customers and suppliers.
So far caution with regard to communications has been the right
The challenge is for companies to work together under the aegis of their
industry bodies to communicate their progress and concerns from now on.