Hong Kong companies that fail to prepare their computer systems for the new millennium may jeopardise the territory's global standing, while those which do should anticipate instances of non-compliance, Phil Dodd, Year 2000 program manager for Unisys, warns. The standard two-digit dating system used by most mainframe computers is the root of the problem, as many are unable to continue operations using the abbreviated year '00'. Many applications, such as calculation, comparing, sorting and performing validations would fail, while others would assume the date of 1900, he said. Banks, trading companies, governments and telecommunication operations would be the major institutions to be affected, causing a domino effect to networking businesses and individuals. Mr Dodd believed the spill-over effect could wreak havoc on insurance policies, interest charges, mortgage rates, telephone bills and payroll accounts. The crisis, often referred to as the 'Year 2000 Bug,' was discussed at the Year 2000 Compliance conference, sponsored by Unisys last week and attended by about 100 delegates. Guest speakers included legislator Eric Li Ka-cheung and Bob Carlson, head of technical services for Hongkong Bank. 'It is probably the most complex challenge that has faced the industry and government ever,' Mr Dodd said. Asian organisations have been slow to implement programs that would help minimise the potential damaging effects, he noted, compared to countries such as the United States, Canada and Britain. 'The domino effect on supply chains and businesses may influence Hong Kong's position in a competitive environment.' Singapore was ahead of the territory in this respect, as its government has raised awareness of the issue and encouraged businesses to re-adjust. Problems arising from the use of the '00' date were detected as early as the 1960s and have caused an increasing number of difficulties for companies as 2000 nears. While it is still three years away, the time needed to implement a millennium-proof program may take more than two years, Mr Dodd said. An Australian bank needed more than eight months to install a A$150 million program and will require two years of testing to ensure it is complete. The high costs for such a system can be attributed to the time and labour needed to implement it. In the US, a telecom company might need to spend up to US$800 million, while a bank might see costs reach $400 million. Despite the expense, there was no guarantee of a problem-free program, as total compliance was unlikely, Mr Dodd said. 'What organisations should be aiming for is minimising the impact.' Unisys launched its Year 2000 program in 1991, and has since millennium-proofed the systems of more than 200 organisations. Mr Dodd, who works from the company's Sydney office, noted the irony of the Year 2000 Bug, which will come into full force at the end of a century lauded for bringing the world into the advanced technology age. People had come to expect computers to adjust automatically to the new century, but the systems relied on humans to ensure proper operation, he said.