D-Day for Data

Article excerpt

A partnership between database companies and their suppliers is key to dodging the pitfalls of the Millennium Bug.

With less than 18 months to go before many computer chips trip up over the calendar change from 99 to 00, the government's task force, Action 2000, has already hired an agency, FCA, to handle a [pounds]10m campaign alerting businesses to the dangers of the Millennium Bug (Marketing, last week).

On the face of it, the direct marketing industry will hit more year 2000 date-change problems than most. From the mainframe systems and in-house databases held by clients, down to mailing and fulfilment houses, it is driven at every level by computer systems.

Martin Bartle, spokesman at the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), says: "Because the industry is data-driven it is essential things are addressed. This is the same for any industry reliant on IT. You can never be sure whether there is a little glitch somewhere or not. My advice is to be as thorough as possible."

James Wilkinson, vice-president of TSC Europe, which specialises in consultancy for call centres and other direct marketing companies, warns that the biggest problem for the direct marketing industry will be from erroneous data entering systems from external sources.

Many direct marketing supply companies, however, have already taken the issue in hand. Mark Patron, managing director of Claritas, which holds lifestyle data on millions of UK households, says the company set up a year 2000 project task team, to operate on a European basis, at the beginning of last year.

Large client companies with customer databases also seem to be well aware of the problem. Judith Thorne, marketing director of Air Miles, says that as the company takes bookings in advance, it had to start investigating whether it could be affected by the bug early on. "From the first of January 1999 we are taking bookings for the year 2000, so it was critical we addressed the problem early. We started looking at the issue four years ago," she says.

The DMA recommends Suppliers and clients establish a high-level team dedicated to this one problem. "Such a team must not be distracted by other responsibilities," warns Bartle.

In theory, the solutions appear to be fairly straightforward, but they can be labour intensive. They involve either rewriting computer code, adding an extra two digits to any dates contained, or replacing the entire database system if it is not compliant.

Paul Robinson, director at computer supplier Strategic Data Management, says: "Anything PC-based will be OK unless the machines are really archaic. But clients using mainframes may face problems." Most PCs bought after 1995 should be compliant.

Thorne says the findings of Air Miles' Millennium project resulted in a decision to bring in new systems before 2000. …