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This is the first in an occasional series on Japan’s Y2K preparedness.

Staff writer

Japan has long been criticized for dragging its feet in tackling the Year 2000 computer problem. But a private high-tech research company whose earlier report provided strong grounds for that censure has now changed its opinion.

According to analysts at Gartner Group Japan K.K., Japan has made significant strides since it compiled a report in October that painted Japan as way behind the curve, and major disasters are unlikely to hit any critical segment of the nation’s infrastructure.

In Japan there are only 12 major electricity firms, and it is relatively easy to check all of them, while the U.S. has hundreds of small electricity firms nationwide, they pointed out.

“I think the (electricity) systems are more secure (in terms of Y2K preparedness) than in the U.S.,” said Gartner Group Japan President Yoshitaka Taguchi, adding that he doubts there will be any major problems in telephone and airline services in Japan.

The Y2K problems threatens older computer systems and programs that use two digits to record year entries, which could confuse “00” as 1900 and not 2000.

The U.S.-based Gartner Group, a major high-tech consulting company with 10,000 corporate customers around the world, shocked some in the Japanese government and information technology industries when it published a global survey of Y2K preparedness in October.

It ranked Japan in the third of four tiers, along with North Korea, Egypt and other developing nations, which includes countries likely to have at least one failure of a mission-critical system at 50 percent of all companies and government agencies.

The October Gartner Group report has often been quoted when blaming Japan for lagging behind in correcting Y2K problems, as was seen in an influential report by a U.S Senate committee released last month.

But the October paper was based on surveys conducted from July through September, shortly before the Japanese government announced a set of programs to to combat the Y2K problem.

Government agencies and industry have quickly taken actions in a consorted manner, and the reaction in Japan is in sharp contrast with those in Germany, where policy confusion still exists between the central and local governments, Taguchi said.

The latest report released by the firm earlier this month moved Japan up one notch, placing it alongside 21 countries including France, Italy and South Korea in the second of the four tiers, which includes nations likely to see at least one failure of a mission-critical system at 33 percent of companies and government agencies.

Twelve countries including the U.S., Britain, Canada and Sweden are ranked in the top category in terms of Y2K preparedness in the newest report.

“As for countries in the (top) two categories, we don’t expect serious problems to occur,” said Tadashi Horiuchi, managing director at Gartner Group Japan’s Japan Research Center.

The consulting firm, however, still pointed out some areas where Japan is lagging behind, including medical devices and hospitals.

The Health and Welfare Ministry recently announced that it will urge all of the 160,000 hospitals and medical facilities across the country to report on progress made in Y2K matters involving medical devices and systems by the end of June.

“But such a (nationwide) test was conducted in the U.S. one year ago,” Taguchi said.

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