In an effort to conserve energy, daylight-saving time will occur three weeks earlier this year — and while that may mean an extra month of longer daylight hours, it could pose problems for businesses that aren't prepared.

The Energy Policy Act, passed by Congress in August 2005, permanently extended daylight-saving time by four weeks starting in 2007, which means that any computer operating systems programmed before 2005 will not automatically spring forward on this year's date, Sunday March 11.

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Everything from appointment times to banking transactions could be affected by this switch, and with so many businesses relying on the regulation of an internal clocking system, technology experts are bracing for the upcoming glitches.

"The worst case is that it will wreak all kinds of havoc on your network," said Mark Arnold, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Master Key Consulting, a Bethesda, Md.-based information-technology firm. "You could have employees who aren't able to sign in to the network or you could lose data. A lot of things could go wrong."

The change is especially worrisome for organizations that are sensitive to timed events. For example, Master Key Consulting, an Inc. 500 firm, works within a network that includes businesses on the West Coast, in Alaska, and even China, making time synchronization extremely important, Arnold said. If some people on the network are operating on a different time schedule, it could interfere with standard business communications. Additionally, companies that operate a large mobile network and have employees using mobile PCs will also be affected by the change.

Master Key Consulting is also working with various government agencies to help address the glitch on their Web sites.

John Bullock, associate vice president and deputy chief operating officer at Energy Enterprise Solutions, is working on implementing patches for the network system at the Department of Energy. Bullock says that in larger organizations, preparing for the earlier time change is more complicated and many of those companies are at a greater risk for problems come March 11.
For Bullock, some of the cause for concern is that many businesses may not be aware of the switch. "Most of the manufacturers of equipment that deals with time are producing patches or corrective software," Bullock said. "But not everyone has implemented it."

David Wilber, director of corporate IT services at Master Key Consulting, is working to ensure a smooth changeover within the company's own network. He is reconfiguring the network so when users log in, the computer will import the necessary changes from a registry file. Wilber is also writing a group policy that will inform employees of the switchover in the network. He will be conducting tests on select computers running up to daylight-saving time, but it is also essential for companies to back-up their data.

"Companies should do their backing up well beforehand and at least try to monitor everything before the bulk of the workforce comes back on Monday," Arnold said.

The good news, according to technology experts, is that there are some easy ways to minimize potential problems for your business and still plenty of time to take action. For businesses that use Windows XP, Microsoft Office, and other Microsoft software, the company's Web site has extensive coverage on which systems are affected and instructions for installing the necessary updates.

Windows XP users who already have the Service Pack 2 upgrade or users who are already running the new Windows Vista system do not have to do anything; those systems were programmed to automatically update themselves.

Updating some of Microsoft's older operating systems such as Windows Millennium Edition or Windows 98 may take slightly more work and time, but the clock on these systems can be manually updated in the computer's control panel. Instructions for this are also at Microsoft's Web site. The change will also need to be performed on the first Sunday in November when the clocks switch again.

Another area that could be a cause for concern for businesses is e-mail. Operations that rely heavily on appointments in desktop calendar programs like Microsoft Outlook will have to install further updates. Patches for calendars in various operating systems can be found at the Microsoft Web site as well.

Fortunately, for those who run businesses on Macs that use the OS X operating system, Apple has already patched updates for daylight-saving time, according to the Apple Web site. However, experts say that business owners should still confirm changes to various software programs online.

Daylight-saving time may also cause a human-resources headache for other business owners who employ shift workers. In a statement, executives at CCH, a human resources and software company and a division of Wolters Kluwer Law and Business firm, said "there can be dollars-and-cents consequences," depending on whether employers decide to pay an extra hour of overtime for those who work during the time change or not.

"As a matter of policy, employers may decide to pay the normal eight hours of pay for that shift," said Heidi Hensen, a CCH workplace analyst, in a statement. "But, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, they are not required to include the additional hour of pay when calculating an employee's regular rate for overtime."

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