Euro patch-up job may no longer be enough

By Graeme Burton
19 Sep 2012 View Comments

One Friday, maybe some time soon, the Greek prime minister will re-convene Parliament to make an important announcement: as of the following Monday, he will say, the euro will no longer be legal tender in Greece.

Further reading

Instead, the country will re-adopt the drachma and all deposits in Greek banks will be converted back to the old currency at an arbitrary rate.

Accounts will be frozen and the people of Greece will be invited to spend the weekend queuing at their bank to convert a limited amount of euros to drachma if they wish to be able to buy essentials.

Over the course of that weekend, much ink will be spilt in the press reporting on the event from almost every angle.

But one consequence that is likely to be overlooked is the impact on IT professionals across the world, who will be called in to work around the clock to patch financial and other critical business systems. Until they can be sure that their organisations’ IT infrastructure will not miss a single euro-cent on Monday morning, it is unlikely they will be getting much sleep, let alone going home.

And after “Grexit”, who knows where it might end?

Greek lightning

For most companies headquartered in the UK, if the crisis were to be restricted just to Greece, the disruption ought to be minimal and manageable.

“Greece is not really a well-established market for us,” says Ian Metcalfe, director of management information systems at printer maker Brother International Europe. “Typically, we would set up an independent sales organisation in European countries to handle distribution. But in Greece, we have an authorised reseller, so we sell in Greece through them.”

As a company, the board of Brother Europe has not discussed the issue in-depth from an IT perspective, he adds, although sales have been affected by the crisis.

“We are seeing some struggles in those southern European areas affected [by the eurozone crisis], but across Europe as a whole, probably 60 per cent of our business is in the UK, Germany and France, so our exposure is not huge,” he adds.

Even in Italy, which could be one of the countries affected if the chaos wrought by Grexit spreads west, there is little sense of imminent crisis, or that a Greek exit from the euro would be particularly serious from a corporate perspective.

Florence-based KME is the world’s largest manufacturer of semi-finished copper and copper alloy products. It runs SAP for financials and a specialist legacy system for metals management.

“The volume of billing for the business that we do in Greece is not so high that it would dramatically change our day-to-day business,” says KME CIO Giuseppe Micalizzi. “At the same time, we also have recent experience of moving from one currency to another.”

Currency handling in the company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems is “quite flexible”, says Micalizzi. “And our IT team is very strong and experienced in terms of their business know-how, and is capable of customising the system.”

Be prepared

Gartner is one of the few analyst groups to have examined the issue in-depth. In a series of reports, it has sketched out how it might affect various aspects of corporate IT and a roadmap for organisations to prepare themselves.

It takes a more sanguine view of the speed with which a country might revert from the euro back to its old currency - suggesting that it will take weeks or even months. “During that transition period, the new national currency will likely be ‘pegged’ to the euro at a fixed rate,” says Gartner analyst Nigel Rayner.

Not surprisingly, Gartner pinpointed organisations’ enterprise resource planning (ERP) and financial systems as the key potential “pain points” for IT:

• A country exiting the euro will impose additional currency accounting requirements on ERP systems;

• Application managers should anticipate general ledger configuration changes for legal entities affected by any country’s exit from the euro;

• Finance users may need to generate comparative national currency historic data for legal entities affected by any country’s exit from the euro.

“CIOs should work with their CFOs, application managers and finance team to identify whether their finance systems can handle the likely impacts,” says Rayner.

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