Schools, businesses, and other organizations aren’t properly prepared for the new start of Daylight Savings Time, says a new report from technology research firm Gartner Inc. This year, clocks in the United States will be turned ahead one hour on March 11–about three weeks earlier than in previous years. And though the change isn’t likely to cause any significant disruption–and the urgency of the situation isn’t nearly as profound as the Y2K “crisis” eight years ago–it’s still something that school IT personnel should be aware of, Gartner says.

The change in Daylight Savings Time is part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The measure, intended to combat rising energy costs and consumption, was signed into law in August 2005. Section 110 of the legislation amends the Uniform Time Act of 1966, changing the start of Daylight Savings Time from the first Sunday in April to the second Sunday in March. Instead of ending on the last Sunday in October, Daylight Savings Time is now scheduled to end on the first Sunday in November.

Wth the new change rapidly approaching, schools, businesses, and other organizations should be taking a proactive approach in updating their computers and calendaring applications. But for the most part, that isn’t happening, says Gartner analyst Will Cappelli.

“There doesn’t seem to be a high level of awareness in schools about this as a potential IT problem,” he explains. “I’m not aware that schools are thinking of [the change] in an IT context.”

owever, Cappelli added, “It probably won’t have a profound impact on a school’s IT infrastructure … as long as they have a recently up-to-date infrastructure in place.” Gartner has found that few organizations have any risk assessment and remediation programs in place to address the impact of the Daylight Savings Time change. This poses a possible challenge in determining which software programs to update and when to do so.

Te report stresses that most time-related problems can be fixed simply by downloading the appropriate patch for your operating system. This is because most applications take their time from the computer’s internal clock, which is determined by the operating system.

“Mac OS X has already been updated to handle the changes to Daylight Savings Time,” said Apple spokesman Todd Wilder. “This update was delivered to our customers seamlessly using our software update mechanism.” Microsoft also has updates available for its Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Windows 2000 operating systems. Windows Vista shipped with the update already included.

Without installing the correct patches, Gartner says, potential problems can include: *Calendaring applications, such as Microsoft Outlook, working improperly;

*Bank transaction errors;

*Missed deadlines for admissions and time-sensitive enrollment programs;

*Phone companies incorrectly charging peak rates during non-peak hours; and

*Security programs improperly denying access to IT resources.

Communication with people outside the United States might be affected as well. If schools, businesses, or organizations based in Europe, for example, do not take the new time changes into account, conference times might be miscommunicated.

What all this amounts to, however, is simply a giant hassle. The lack of any significant security threats associated with the change could help explain why there hasn’t been much buzz coming from computer and software vendors.

“The vendor community in general has been consciously low-key about this,” says Cappelli. “They have gone out of their way to ensure that no sense of panic was created. They did not want to remind the world of the Y2K problem [from 1999].”

That hasn’t prevented vendors from preparing patches, however. And now, the process of informing computer users about the change is starting to occur. Many companies have finally begun issuing patching schedules to inform their customers of the availability of such patches. Cappelli expects the volume of chatter on the topic to pick up over the next few weeks and reach full volume in the week leading up to March 11.

Cappelli also believes the change will give schools a perfect opportunity to improve their patch-management process. “Many schools have a haphazard patch-management process in place,” he explains. “As these patches are released, this would be a good opportunity to [establish a better] patch-management process, because there will be a heavier-than-usual volume of patches being implemented.”

Jim Hirsch, associate superintendent for technology at the Plano Independent School District in Texas, says the earlier time change “could be a potential problem for anyone who does not pay attention to the systems they use and the possible impact that having the incorrect time might have on their operations.”

“It’s one thing to synchronize a server, but another issue to have applications that time-stamp critical items incorrectly,” Hirsch said.

“Applying provided patches is important,” he added. “While some school systems might be completely unaffected by this change, my guess is that most will need to apply patches to at least some applications that are more time-sensitive.”

Given that lawmakers recently considered repealing the change to Daylight Savings Time before it even began, Cappelli says, the new start and end dates might just be temporary. It’s entirely possible that next year, Daylight Savings Time will return to its original schedule. In that case, Cappelli says, these one-time software patches will have to be replaced by a whole new batch.