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FEE Paris 2000

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FEE Conference Paris Nov 13-14 2000

This is a loose collection of notes from the sessions I attended at the conference. All the speakers' presentations are available in full from the FEE Euro web site. (Click on the "presentations" link on lower left of their page). 

Benjamin Angel from the European Commission pointed out that regular surveys on awareness of the euro showed a very low uptake. Typically, less than 1% of companies are making statutory returns (VAT, etc) in euro. This was borne out by the Coda report that 70% of their VAX/IBM user base have completed testing, but no base conversions yet. Coda sell routines to convert customer/supplier accounts to euro-denominated accounts, but only 10% of client-server users have tested. Users are planning for final changeover in 2001. Merant's presentation emphasised the value of clustering the conversion to help bring forward the changeover to avoid a Big-Bang change on 31 Dec 2001. They commented that the biggest motivator can be what the competitors are doing. (Would anyone care to guess how many e-commerce web sites will remain unconverted on 1.1.2002?)

The most significant theme to emerge was how so many euro project managers are struggling with the management of the project. 

John Cherry of Marconi highlighted that a key point of their methodology was phase review. League tables highlighted leaders and laggards; over the project, the gap narrowed and teams played catch-up in competition. Site visits focus the attention. You need maximum power on this project, from board sponsorship; a strong risk management approach;  Euro checklists to avoid reinventing the wheel. 

Brian Cahalin reported on the 1998/1999 changeover of Davy Stockbrokers in Ireland. He inherited a project that lacked structure and momentum, mixing euro & Y2K conversions. They froze all non-euro develoment, because failure to meet the stock market change to the euro on 1.1.1999 posed a business risk . He emphasised the need for a formal structure, a full time project manager with a direct line to top. Departmental managers were forced to release people at fixed times for user testing. They have now hired a dedicated user test specialist. They were helped by consistency across industry, which is lacking in the general changeover where the expected "snowball" effect has not happened. Practice runs reduced the conversion time from 24 hours to 3 hours. They started paying cheques in euro, and customers accepted that, with only 2 calls to the help desk.

Mike Bell and Enid Jones of the Association of British Insurers presented examples They showed horizontal ("round-trip conversion") and vertical ("sum of conversions does not equal conversion of sum") rounding errors in database conversion. They illustrated the problems inherent in wrapping data. (Indeed, I automatically mistyped that as "warping" data. Trying to convert historical data that way will run across artifacts like the conversion of Netherlands one cent bank giro transactions to zero euro cents!) You can only insert rounding corrections at one level of the data relation hierarchy; elsewhere, reconstruct derived data or do nothing. This is top class data that consultants have hitherto been able to charge for; now you can get it for free at www.abi.org.uk 

Another addition to our "Euro trivia" collection is that Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City could mint their own coins under licence, adding to the number of varieties of coins; but their current coins are rarely seen anyway. Andorra is another independent principality but it uses Spanish and French coins.

The PR person for the ECB campaign, Seth Goldschlag, spoke of the partnership programme worldwide for the dissemination of euro information. Their total budget appears to be only 80 million euro, so they will depend on partners. The website will be www.euro.int. 

In France on on 15 Dec, public will be able to buy 14 euro packs of coins for 100 francs. (That's really nice of them considering that 14 euro is FRF 91.85! I have seen FRF100 theatre tickets represented as EUR 15 which is actually FRF 98.40.) All state contracts will be signed in euro from July 2001; and the public payroll; and corporate accounts will be converted in banks unless they advise otherwise. Some dispute arose in the audience about whether 1999-2001 results can be reported in FRF or not, some resolution is needed.

My own presentation focused on what specific features a software system needs to be able to support the complete business changeover scenario. I listed all the tests that needed to be performed where any of these features are automated, and called for openness and transparency in declarations by package vendors of what their software does to assist the changeover. As it was a conference organised by the representative body of the accountancy profession in Europe, who advise small businesses, I also commented on the important FEE paper on software issues for SMEs. The slides are available on the FEE euro web site in zipped Powerpoint slide format. This link takes you to our online version.

© 2000 Patrick O'Beirne, 15 November 2000

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