The Deutsche mark's days are numbered. So are those of the French franc, the Irish pound and nine other national currencies, all scheduled to disappear on 1 January 2002 when the euro goes into cash circulation. It's a mammoth operation: some 14.5 billion brand-new euro banknotes and 50 billion coins have to be made available in time, according to the European Central Bank.

Companies in the euro zone — which includes Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain — must complete the laborious process of converting all their financial processes to euros by the end of the year.

Some have already been doing business for months in euros, which have been legal tender in electronic form since 1999. Historical data have to be converted over as well, and even companies outside the euro zone that do a lot of business inside it — in the UK, for example — may have to update their processes to handle the new currency.

All of that has the companies that make ERP (enterprise resource planning) software, the software that big companies run on, scrambling to get their customers ready for the big switch over. Programmers have been readying updates and 'tool kits' for the currency conversion for several years — the single currency has been in the works since the European program for Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) was laid out in 1992.

"We've been communicating with customers for four years now about the need to come across," said Brian Gregory, Oracle's e-business marketing director for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. "From the release of (software version) R11, in 1998, we've had a viable solution for them to come along to."

"We started in 1996," said Hans-Joachim Wurth, EMU Program Director at SAP. "The biggest customers have already done it. It started in the beginning of '99 with DaimlerChrysler and in October of that year came Siemens."

JD Edwards, another ERP vendor, even informed its customers by registered mail of the steps they need to take, so that they couldn't claim they hadn't been informed, said spokesman Stephan Vanberg. "It's been known for so long, that for the last one-and-one-half years euro functionality was completely taken care of in normal upgrades."

But of course, plenty of customers are still using legacy versions of software. And some users still have their heads in the sand about the euro. Some 75 percent of Oracle's customers have either 'migrated' or made a plan to do so, according to Gregory. SAP says three-quarters of its 6,700 installations in the euro zone have been converted. But what about the rest?

"There's a lot of companies that have just ignored it and have left it too late, and now they're saying, 'Gosh, what have we got to do'," said Nigel Rayner, a research director at analyst firm Gartner. "If a company doesn't do anything about it, it's not the ERP company's fault."

"What I hear is that the large accounts, the large companies, already use the euro as their home currency; but smaller accounts are still using national currencies," said Erik van Barneveld, program manager for financials at Baan.

"With the millennium bug, people took no action and fortunately it worked. But we know for sure that if you take no action on the euro conversion, you'll be in trouble," he said.