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Company bug bear Time is running out if you haven't yet started to check if your computer systems will be stricken by the millennium bug.

Surveys by the Department of Trade & Industry's Action 2000 task force show that many smaller firms have still done little or nothing to prepare for the problems posed by the millennium bug. 'We would say that anyone who has not at least put an item in their budget for the first quarter of next year is potentially vulnerable,' says Action 2000 operations director Tony Stock.

Now is the time to act. Leaving it later means runring the risk of there being a shortage of people to provide assistance, or even a shortage of replacement computers, he warns.

The most recent survey of 2,600 private sector businesses, in September, showed that firms were far less ready than they had thought. About a quarter perceived themselves as fully prepared, but on closer questioning the figure was just 6%. In construction, just 31% of firms were making good progress.

Spreading the word down the supply chain is a current focus, and many larger companies are acting as mentors to the smaller firms they deal with. Stock praises Construct IT's year 2000 health check initiative for helping in this (NCE 16 July).

Firms are often worried about letting themselves in for legal liabilities when they share information and Action 2000 has launched Pledge 2000, an initiative to encourage sharing of information without getting legalistic. So far about 700 firms have signed up. Typically, when a large firm signs up, the pledge can filter down the supply chain.

Action 2000 holds a database of about 100 commercial software products, with details of their compliance. There is also a scheme whereby business support organisations or trade associations can seek information on products not listed. Further sector-specific lists totalling about 300 items may be added.

A separate project is looking at potential problems with embedded systems, where computer chips control services. 'It is a very disparate field,' says Stock. 'The biggest problem is testing.'

Concerns are not confined to small and medium sized businesses. In the government sector there are worries particularly about district councils, which have all sorts of responsibilities that affect the general public. Underlying Action 2000's work is a public confidence programme, checking the readiness of infrastructure such as electricity and water systems.

Action 2000 has also recently started to target homeowners with practical guidance on potential effects on home computers, videos and the like.

For further information call 0845 610 2000, or visit http://www. open.gov.uk/bug2000.

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