FEATURE STORY: The Euro - the evil twin of the millenium!

When the world begins its transition to the Euro on Jan. 1, 1999, the 11 'in' nations of the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) will become the world's largest single trading partner. And unlike year 2000 projects -- which merely allow companies to stay in business -- converting your in-house systems to Euro compatibility could give your company that extra bit of competitive advantageWho cares about the Euro, anyway? You probably read the news: 11 European countries formally agreed to adopt a single currency called the Euro. Starting in January 1999, the Euro will be legal tender in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Austria, Portugal, Ireland, the Netherlands, Finland and Luxembourg.

And three years later -- in January 2002 -- the Euro will completely replace those countries' national currencies.

No more Deutschemarks or francs or lira or escudos; from 2002 on, it's all Euros.

But so what? Like most, you probably just skimmed the Euro story and then turned the page to read on about "real" IT stories.

After all, it's happening an ocean away, it's not a technology issue, and there's no reason it should have an impact on your IS shop -- right?

Wrong. The Euro is a business issue, and that means sooner or later it could have a huge impact on your information systems -- even if your systems don't handle non-Australian currencies today. And when it hits, if you haven't already scoped out what that impact will be, you could find yourself rushing through a retrofit that makes your year 2000 scramble feel like a vacation.

Collectively, the Euro will be one of the biggest economies in the world. The Euro will make it worthwhile for the first time for many companies to do business in a currency besides the dollar.

So between the increasing globalisation of business and instant Internet access to 290 million Euro-zone customers, the question really isn't if you'll ever need to make sure your systems can handle transactions in Euros.

It's more a matter of how soon your CEO will tell you he wants that capability -- and wants it yesterday.

Of course, if you're blindsided by the Euro, it won't be a new experience. We've all been ambushed plenty often before -- by outsourcing and business re-engineering, by mergers and by sudden business direction changes at our companies.

None of those things are primarily technology issues. When business pundits first began talking about outsourcing, we thought they meant manufacturing or janitorial work -- how could you outsource something as crucial as IS? And somehow, we always underestimate the havoc that mergers will wreak on our systems when we discover we have to radically change the way we do business -- almost overnight.

We've got to stop paging past the news we don't think affects us -- and start planning for it.

How ready are your systems for a merger? For a dramatic change in your company's line of business? For a sudden change in the way you do business -- whether that means using Euros or outsourcing production or selling on the Internet? You need to be prepared for those possibilities.

That doesn't mean you should retrofit systems now in anticipation of a merger or Euro-business that may never happen. But it does mean designing and building new systems with an eye towards adding capabilities such as Euro transactions when they become necessary.

And it means developing contingency plans for mergers and other business changes. The better you understand how you'll need to react to a sudden change, the faster you'll be able to respond -- and report to your top management on what needs to be done.

Most of all, though, it means continually watching for all the changes that could affect your company. Technical changes. Business changes. Political changes. Even if they happen an ocean away.

Because if you don't spot them coming, they'll blindside you. And then all your planning won't be worth a plugged Euro.

Euro service opportunities

Business Consulting:

Product costing

Labor costing and mobility

Department resizing

Profit yield optimisation from more-elastic markets IT implementation:

Changing proprietary system references to national currencies and interest ratesCurrency converters Rounding rules Operations management during transition period, 1999 to 2002 Conversion of historical dataMicrosoft's Euro currency supportAs multinational corporations spend millions to overhaul their enterprise applications to handle the Euro, the European Union's upcoming new single currency, Microsoft earlier in the year offered a modest assist by promising that its PC applications will be able to display the new character symbolising the currency.

It may just be a "C" with two horizontal lines crossing, but PC users will probably still be relieved to know that Microsoft will offer the character in its Windows operating systems. Updates will be made available enabling Windows 95 and Windows NT to display the symbol, while Windows 98 and Windows NT 5.0 will support the Euro from their market availability dates. Windows CE will support the Euro symbol in version 2.1 and beyond. Users will also need updated printer fonts, a printer that supports the symbol through downloadable fonts, and an updated version of their application, Microsoft said.

-- Elizabeth Heichler

Apples to oranges

Year 2000 and Euro projects are both big and tough to manage. And that's where the similarity ends.

Euro requirements:

Strong business drivers, especially financial-services companies in countries likely to adopt the EuroNew development Milestones of 1999 and 2002 System functions changed User and customer training required Substantial documentation changes Y2K requirements:

No business drivers

Legacy systems

Milestone of 2000

System functions changed

Limited end-user training

Limited documentation

Source: Gartner Group

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