Oz telcos differ on Y2K priorities

Dominant Australian carriers Optus Communications and Telstra differ on the priority ranking of Y2K as a criticial IT management project despite agreeing it is a major corporate issue.

According to Chris Gabriel, Optus' IT director, resolving the Year 2000 issue is the carrier's number one priority. As a result, he said Optus has instituted a "cradle to the grave" investigation of its entire infrastructure to ensure 100 per cent compliance with business partners and customers worldwide.

However, Negba Weiss-Dolev, Telstra's group director, Telstra Y2K program, said Y2K was one of the carrier's "Top 10" priorities, citing customer service as its major focus. "I can't say Y2K is Telstra's top priority," she said.

Weiss-Dolev said Telstra is focussing its resources on the aspects of the organisation where Y2K will have a major impact, despite recognising the issue will have many unforseeable effects. "Nobody understands the potential ripples that will occur through the world economy," she said.

Both Gabriel and Weiss-Dolev were speaking at a "special interest" meeting of the Australian Telecommunications User Group (ATUG) this week, titled "Telstra and Optus plans for the Year 2000 bug".

Gabriel and Weiss-Dolev outlined the steps Australia's two leading telecommunications carriers have taken towards tackling Y2K and offered an evaluation of the progress achieved to date. According to the executives, both carriers expect to meet the Year 2000 deadline but admitted the task is not easy.

"I think its impossible to say you have covered everything," Weiss-Dolev said. "I hope no one is feeling smug and (think) they are OK."

However, Optus is confident it has the right approach to the issue despite what Gabriel described as "gigantic expectations from business and partners".

Gabriel reported Optus has established a special "Y2K program office", with the company's chief operations officer owning responsibility for managing its path to Y2K compliance. He also said Optus is leveraging its links with its US owners, Cable & Wireless, to ensure the carrier meets global compliance.

Weiss-Dolev said Telstra is taking a "three pronged approach" encompassing IT and network programs, management processes and "what if" contingency planning. Overall, she said Telstra is taking a "pragmatic risk weighted management approach". Telstra is also reported to be conducting Y2K compliance testing with key business partners and customers.

The issue of Y2K testing is fundamental for Optus. Gabriel said Optus customers can expect it to visit from the end of 1998 once it has completed its own internal compliance testing. He offered the ultimatum that businesses must prove Y2K compliance if they want to work with Optus in the future. Telstra also expects Y2K compliance from business partners when it begins further partner testing in 1999.

As for the future, Weiss-Dolev was confident. "I think we can make it."

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