India IT officials relieved as Y2K passes without incident

The nail-biting anxiety before the new millennium gave way to sighs of relief in India, as some critical infrastructure such as telecommunications and power supply continued uninterrupted during the Y2K rollover. International communications services run by the government-majority-owned Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd. were also uninterrupted. Service by India's Internet providers and cellular companies also continued through the rollover without a reported hitch.

Dr. Y.K. Sharma, deputy director general of the Delhi-based National Informatics Center (NIC) in the Ministry of Information Technology, said a little after midnight that the Y2K rollover in the country had been smooth across all sectors.

"We have no reason to [expect] any problems, but of course we are continuing to monitor," he added. The government of India had set up a National Y2K Control Room in the NIC to monitor and provide information during the rollover.

The Y2K compliance of infrastructure such as power and communications were of particular concern to the corporate sector, as these services are primarily government controlled. In their contingency plans, a large number of companies and banks made provisions for back-up power supplies and communications links.

"Our contingency plan is extremely detailed and is based on the impact analysis of various failure scenarios," said A.G. Prabhu of the Mumbai-headquartered ICICI Banking Corp. Ltd. on New Year's Eve. "The most extreme contingency that is extended power failure will need recourse to manual operations using paper-based customer records."

The information systems of the corporate sector, too, appear to have gone through the Y2K rollover unscathed. Hari Balasubramanian, executive director-software operations of the Delhi-headquartered Modi Xerox Ltd., said, "There are no surprises at all. If anything were to go wrong, it would have in the first half hour after midnight." Modi Xerox spent about $1 million to upgrade its equipment, operating system, office-automation software and data communication equipment, besides about 14 man-years in remediation and testing.

But like many other large Indian companies, Modi Xerox wasn't' taking any chances. The technology infrastructure of the company spread over 45 locations was shut down on New Year's Eve, and the rollover was phased in a few locations at a time. "The feedback is that the Y2K rollover across the country has been absolutely smooth," said Ravi Sangal, president of IDC India. "A key reason was the low level of computerization in India, and on top of that very little of that computerization was transaction oriented."

Indian companies had some of their staff working through midnight of Dec. 31 in case of any Y2K-related problems. A number of equipment and software vendors such as Microsoft Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Compaq Computer Corp. set up 24-hour help lines for Y2K-related problems. Nasdaq-listed software exporter Infosys Technologies Ltd. set up in Bangalore a war room, which will be operational 24 hours a day up to Jan. 4.

For Bangalore-based Infosys and other software exporters, the concern is not only about their own internal systems, but also whether the Y2K remediation work they have done on the information systems of their overseas clients has been successful. Besides the war room in Bangalore, Infosys set up similar Y2K rooms in Fremont, Calif., and Boston and posted coordinators in Europe and Japan to resolve Y2K issues sent to Infosys by its clients.

As the New Year rolled in, however, the company had little to worry about, as there were no problems found with its own internal systems or the communications infrastructure so critical to a software export operation.

"A clear picture from our customers will be available only later as ý some of our customers are closed for the weekend," said S. Gopalakrishnan, deputy managing director at Infosys Technologies. "But we are sure there will be no problems."

India's banks closed down customer transactions on New Year's Day following an earlier directive from the central bank, the Reserve Bank of India, although interbank transactions will continue as usual. However, after a smooth Y2K rollover at midnight across its 12 branches, T. Sivaram, deputy general manager of Bangalore-based Vysya Bank Ltd., is confident it will be business as usual once the bank reopens to customers.

A number of the private-sector banks that offer state-of-the-art services such as Internet banking had drawn up contingency plans including falling back on manual systems in case they encountered Y2K-related glitches.

"We will revert to manual processing in case of failure of our systems," said C.N. Ram, head of IT at Mumbai-based HDFC Bank on New Year's Eve. "The processes can be made manual and will work in conjunction with printed reports taken prior to the Y2K rollover."

Reports coming in during the early hours of the New Year suggest that such back-up plans weren't needed at HDFC Bank or any other organizations in India. To be sure, says Sangal, some Y2K-related problems may show up once companies examine systems in more detail, but these should be temporary and not disruptive.

With the dawn of the new millennium, India appears to have crossed what was potentially a major hurdle for a country that had taken its first steps toward automation. The expenditure by the Indian corporate sector and the government in ensuring Y2K compliance appear to have paid off.

For more international Y2K coverage, see Computerworld's Global Y2K News special reports.

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