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DST changes may create time trials: An extended schedule threatens calendars on electronic devices

March 5, 2007

It must seem like déjá vu to Hoosier companies who again must prepare their computer networks for the confusion caused by daylight-saving time.

Indiana's first-ever switch to DST last year triggered a mass adjustment of electronic clocks essential for computers and other devices to spring ahead with the rest of the world.

Now the ritual must be repeated, due to a 2005 federal law decreeing that DST start three weeks earlier and end one week later, beginning this year. The reasoning is that more early-evening daylight will translate into energy savings.

The entire nation will spring ahead the second Sunday in March (that's March 11 this year) instead of the usual first Sunday in April and fall back the first Sunday in November instead of the last Sunday in October.

The result is a glitch not quite reminiscent of the Y2K bug, experts say, but an inconvenience that could cause moments of head-scratching when some computers are a n h o u r off.

The Arlington, Va.-based Information Technology Association of America warned that organizations unprepared for the earlier time change could face significant losses.

The conundrum, more so for small-business owners, is that even if they're aware, they might not know how to fix the problem, said Keith Gallant, a sales engineer with Michigan-based computer consultant Netarx Inc., which has a Carmel office.

"The more devices they have, the more of an effort it will be," he said. "In many cases, they installed the systems but don't know how to fix the time."

To be sure, the details can get a bit murky.

Computers keep their clocks in line by occasionally checking with "time servers" run by the government and other parties that provide Universal Time or Greenwich Mean Time.

By telling the computer where in the world it is, it performs the requisite adjustment to Universal Time. PCs on Eastern Standard Time now are subtracting five hours from Universal Time, but in DST they will subtract four.

For small-business owners with few computers, the solution might be as simple as manually resetting the time in each machine, and repeating the procedure in the fall. But even that can get complicated. That's because the clocks will jump ahead one hour again the first of April because they'll still read the old daylight-saving time date and will have to be adjusted accordingly.

Larger companies seeking a permanent fix can turn to their software providers such as Microsoft or Lotus for a "patch" that reprograms systems with the updated start and end dates for DST.

Indianapolis-based accounting firm Crowe Chizek and Co. LLC began installing the patches only about a month ago because they weren't available until then.

"We're actually using some of the announcements and processes that we used last year," said Lamont Long, Crowe's IT director. "But between your PCs, BlackBerrys and mobile phones, we can't control all of that. If the electronic processes don't work, we hope human intelligence will take over."

Microsoft patches, however, are not available for computers running anything older than the most recent version of Windows XP, known as Service Pack 2. So if you're running Windows 2000, it may be time for an upgrade. Conversely, new machines operating on Windows Vista are immune, since Vista was finalized after the 2005 law passed.

Moreover, the patches will not correct entries in Microsoft Outlook and other desk-based calendar programs made before they were installed. So appointments entered before a patch was applied might still be registered in standard time rather than daylight time, and be off by one hour.

Microsoft and other vendors have small programs available that can retrofit all previously booked appointments to the new daylight-saving calendar. But whether they are effective is "suspect at this point," Long said.

The information technology folks at the Indianapolis-based Barnes & Thornburg LLP law firm are telling their attorneys to verify their meeting times with the other parties through e-mails. While patches have been applied to several internal systems, some might have to go without, said Tim Shaw, the firm's chief information officer.

In that regard, this year is worse than when Indiana made the leap last year, simply because they were not at the mercy of the software vendors and could reconfigure the computers to daylight-saving time themselves.

"Being a law firm, we have very important dates for court," Shaw said. "What we're saying is that anything that is timesensitive, make sure you document those."

Further muddying the waters, at least for companies operating internationally, is the fact that the time change originated in the United States and is being followed by Canada but not by other nations.

For Indianapolis-based trucking giant Celadon Group, which ships to Mexico, the change is even more confounding. But ignoring the issue and jeopardizing business is not a risk Celadon is willing to take, said Mike Gabbei, the company's chief information officer.

"We have to pull people off of things they would be doing otherwise," he said. "It's an obstacle in the road, but it's a critical thing that has to be addressed."

The irony here is that Celadon and other transporters hardly are in a position to fuss over the new rules. They argued for the time change last year, to simplify shipping procedures for customers who had to have freight ready an hour early for six months each year as surrounding states changed clocks back and forth.

There is one option that remains for those who choose to ignore the new rules: They can schedule their appointments on paper and wait for the computer to reset the time three weeks later, on April 1, as it normally would have before DST was extended.
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