Mon, 10 Jan 2000

Initial evaluation of the impact of the Y2K bug on Indonesia

By RM Roy Suryo

YOGYAKARTA (JP): "Saved by the bell," an idiom often used in boxing, is a good phrase to begin this initial evaluation of the impact of the millennium bug in Indonesia.

After all, following the critical period of Dec. 31, 1999 to Jan. 1, 2000 and on Jan. 3 and Jan. 4 at the opening of banks and the stock exchange, when things appeared to be fairly safe, the next critical date was Jan. 7; there were fears that noncompliant computers would take Jan. 7 as a holiday in 1900.

However because Jan. 8 is Idul Fitri, a day before which the central bank, Bank Indonesia, always stops clearing activities, the anxieties over the bug on Friday, Jan. 7 did not materialize.

In the meantime, at least, Indonesians can breath a sigh of relief as the bug has not yet created significant havoc here. Not yet? As its name suggests, the "bug" might not have taken effect, given tight, good "security" from six critical sectors so far.

Therefore the Y2K team, despite what it has been doing it has not been quite visible to the public, deserves applause for its temporary success in overcoming the bug, and so do the three ministers who openly displayed concern over the problem -- Minister of Communications Agum Gumelar, State Minister of Social Affairs Anak Agung Gde Agung and Minister of Mines and Energy Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Ironically, the State Minister of Research and Technology A.S. Hikam has been tight-lipped about this technical problem, which could have a wide-ranging social impact.

Possible chaos

The possible chaos that the bug may still cause should not be overlooked. The prediction that the Y2K problem could cause disaster at the transitional moment between 1999 and 2000 allowed Indonesia and other parts of the world to take precautionary measures. If the prediction had not been made, maybe the condition would not have been as good as it is now.

It is true that incidents that occurred in Indonesia were not as bad as those in some other countries. It also would be naive to say that the millennium bug doesn't bite or to assume that Y2K is an unfounded rumor spread by world computer wizards. It would be just as naive to suspect that the issue was created by computer consultants for their personal gain.

The wrong perception that Y2K is no threat amounts to a simple anecdote about a student who is to sit for an exam. There are three possibilities that may occur. First, when he studies only a part of a subject, there is a chance he will forget the other part. Second, if studies the whole subject, chances are he will forget a big part of it. Third, if he does not study at all, he will have nothing to forget.

So it would be better if those unknowledgeable about Y2K did not force others to accept their narrow views.

If major institutions like Telkom, Indosat, Bank Indonesia, the banking system, the stock exchange, state electricity company PLN, state oil company Pertamina and airlines had not taken the necessary precautions in December, calamity might have befallen them. Then Chris Morris' (Gartner Group Pacific) worry that Indonesia was vulnerable to the computer glitch could have become reality.

Data about institutions and businesses' readiness for the millennium bug was unconvincing and gave the impression that they were covering up the truth. This became even more suspicious when the Certification Institute MKT-2000 issued only 46 Y2K compliance certificates at the end of 1999.

Although Indonesia was largely protected from the bug, there were a few Y2K-related cases.

First, the appearance of 1900 for more than one minute on Bank Indonesia's Y2K command center computer. It happened in the presence of BI deputy governor Aulia Pohan, who has confirmed the incident.

Second, an automatic teller machine of Bank Niaga denied access to a customer's account from which he wanted to withdraw money, even though the right procedure had been carried followed. This incident was recorded and aired by SCTV.

Third, chaos happened in the automatic recharging system of Simpati prepay SIM card for mobile phones.

Fourth, the computer systems of some media like Media Indonesia, Republika and Mandiri were down because they were not Y2K compliant. Although the problem could be overcome, the incidents are worth noting.

We should stay alert for possible Y2K disasters even though the much worried-about change in year has passed. One should remember the computer glitch that hit the ballot-counting process following the June general election. Although the poll ran smoothly under the watchful eyes of international observers, including former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, the ballot-counting and allocation of legislative seats hit a snag. A snag also affected the nomination of president and vice president.

Although we passed 1999 relatively safely, to have a "victory party" would be premature because the bug might strike in the future. It may affect projects like the standardization of student registration numbers because universities still use computer systems which are not Y2K compliant.

Another thing to watch for is the possibility of computer dates jumping to March 3, 2000 from Feb. 28, because some computers are not ready for the 2000 leap year. Feb. 28 and Feb. 29 are work days and if a glitch does occur, it will not be a case of being saved by the bell. The writer