Judge and Jury: Taskforce 2000 is running out of time to defuse this explosive - Taskforce 2000 may have shot itself in the foot over how many businesses will be affected by the Millennium time-bomb but will be the PR winner whatever happens, says Mark Me

It is possible that in the first weeks of the year 2000, thousands of businesses may go bust because they, their suppliers and customers haven’t taken the right precautions with their IT systems.

It is possible that in the first weeks of the year 2000, thousands

of businesses may go bust because they, their suppliers and customers

haven’t taken the right precautions with their IT systems.



When the clock strikes midnight on 31 December 1999, many computer

systems will think it is the year 1900. This problem is called the

Millenium time-bomb and is just 950 days away, but people are only now

becoming aware of the real consequences of ignoring the situation.

Alarmingly, less than ten per cent of British businesses have made any

progress towards solving it.



Until very recently no one other than the computer industry took any

notice. Last autumn, the Government bowed to demands for action and

created Taskforce 2000, an organisation to raise awareness of the

time-bomb in the business community. Taskforce 2000 estimates put the

cost to Britain of solving the time-bomb at pounds 31 billion, so the

DTI put pounds 170,000 into the campaign. New Labour seems to have put

some urgency into the problem and will hopefully make more impact than

their predecessors.



Taskforce 2000 coverage gained momentum at the end of 1996 and

campaigning has been stepped up recently in the national media. The

Taskforce 2000 ’doomsday merchants’, as they have been nicknamed, will

always win PR-wise. Come the year 2000, they can always say ’we told you

so’ when businesses collapse around them, or if a catastrophe is averted

claim responsibility for alerting UK businesses in time.



But more recently Taskforce 2000 admitted to exaggerating the figures in

order to gain attention. The problem is a very serious one and should

not be underestimated, but it is clear now that the facts presented by

Taskforce 2000 were fiction. By losing credibility at a critical time,

Taskforce 2000 has jeopardised the campaign’s impact.



The problem now is that the challenge remains for the next two years and

time is running out. Campaign continuity is needed, but media interest

will dissipate. A few forthcoming seminars are a drop in the ocean and

greater resources will be needed to get businesses to take this issue

seriously.



Full marks to Taskforce 2000 for the current effort, a black mark for

shooting themselves in the foot with false figures, but ’nil points’ for

timing. The campaign must raise the number of businesses tackling the

problem to nearer 100 per cent if it is to be judged a success. The

jury’s out until we read the papers after 1 January 2000 - if there are

any papers.



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