Entomology for the millennium: Options for the bugs

Wednesday, September 01, 1999
Every company in the marine and offshore industries has at some stage been involved in a millennium bug compliance study. It is now time to admit that industry is bored with the subject. Since the problem was first mooted, its possible outcome has remained a mystery, which is the only definite aspect of the millennium bug problem. No one actually knows what will happen. One thing is certain, though, in the modern marine and offshore industry, information has become the most important business tool. How companies handle and store it for use depends on their internal structure, but it is safe to say that it will be on a computer at some stage. Lose the information, and the company will lose money rapidly while trying to recoup that information and operate effectively at the same time. So information-sensitive companies such as shipbrokers, agents, offshore oil companies, and ship operators, have been forced to take measures to ensure compliance. Until recently, there was only one course of action open to them, weed out the problems now by replacing equipment, at huge cost, that does not meet millennium bug requirements. There are now two courses of action possible. Companies can now rent the software. Renting software is a service that has never been offered to the shipping industry before, but small and medium-sized companies have welcomed the idea. In order to meet the millennium compliance guarantees of larger companies, those using older systems have been forced to replace them with new, up-to-date equipment. Added to this are the associated costs of hardware, software, and the technical backup required to ensure that it all works smoothly. Replacement programs also mean massive capital outlay, a financial millstone that can be avoided by renting. Companies can rent software to customers on short-term rental agreements, offering full technical backup and assistance 24 hours a day as part of the rental agreement. For the marine industry, the advantages of rental are mainly financial. Software can be upgraded as newer versions become available, while the company renting the software doesn't have to find cash for the newer versions. Reputable suppliers will also offer a 24-hour support service for any problem users may experience, and provide a guarantee that their systems are millennium-compliant. Renting has become the buzzword of the financial sector, where it has proven to be a cost-effective alternative to replacing entire computing networks avoiding the rapid depreciation computing systems undergo. Currently, a system, or piece of software, can be bought one day, and declared obsolete the following month. By renting the software, companies do not get caught out. Renting also has the potential to provide further cost savings for the user. Software providers install the application for you, provide the relevant licenses and offer the appropriate warranties. Companies who prefer the initial capital outlay of buying in completely new systems, will be hit with maintenance and repair bills at regular intervals. For those renting, it will usually be included in the rental agreement. Software providers will also offer short-term agreements. This makes renting particularly attractive for small and medium-sized companies, giving them the option to continue with the service at regular intervals, or choose to leave when they are more financially sound and can afford to install and maintain their own systems. Of course, software rental is likely to have far-reaching consequences for the shipping and office environments. Shipowning companies could install loading and structural software on their vessels under license, while offshore companies could install rented software for electronic mail and ship-to-shore communications with their platforms out at sea. New software facilities for use with satellite communications could be marketed under fixed-term rental arrangements. Renting software could help a company ensure it is millennium-compliant, as well as provide a guarantee for a company's customers that it is capable of ensuring continuity of service over the suspect dates, in addition to exhibiting preparedness to make internal investments to continue providing them with a quality service. More companies can be expected to offer it as standard.
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