“March 11, 2007” doesn’t have the same ring as “Y2K,” but thanks to a change in daylight savings time on that date, small and mid-size businesses will have some Y2K-like problems if they don’t prepare.

In an attempt to improve energy efficiency, the U.S. Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and that has shifted daylight savings time starting this year. Clocks will “spring ahead” on the second Sunday in March – March 11 -- instead of the first Sunday in April. The clocks will revert back on the first Sunday in November instead of the last Sunday in October.

On the tech front, that means that if your computer system’s internal clocks are still programmed for the old daylight savings time, it will mess up calendaring systems, which will lead to all sorts of problems. Each device that you use to run your business – from PCs to laptops to BlackBerrys – may end up an hour behind the actual time in your time zone.

The worst-case scenario

The risk to a small or mid-size business varies greatly depending on the type of business, the business' reliance on technology, and what actions you take between now and March 11. The impact can range from a minor inconvenience – such as computer clocks showing the wrong time -- to potential business hazards – such as transactions failing to be completed. There are also potential life and death situations, such as for companies that make timed medical devices.

“It ranges from you and I are off on a meeting for one hour to a home health medication device that isn’t working on time," says Ray Wang, principal analyst with Forrester Research, of Cambridge, Mass., "to transactions and other kinds of contracts that aren’t executed.”

Many small and mid-size businesses are still unaware of the daylight savings glitch, says Jason Werner, product marketing manager for software maker Novell. “Everyone must pay attention and deal with this problem,” Werner says. “We’re not looking at Y2K all over again, but it is certainly problematic.”

The fact that Y2K was overblown in the press is another reason why many are sanguine about this latest computer hiccup, Wang says. “It’s been known for a while, but people haven’t given it much attention.”

What a small business can do

What can business leaders do to avoid business problems resulting from the daylight savings time glitch? In a word, patches. All the major software makers, including Microsoft, Apple, Research in Motion, and Novell, are offering software patches, which can be downloaded or are part of special software updates. (Microsoft’s new operating system, Vista, is compliant with the new change in daylight savings time.)

Novell is one of several firms that offer patch management software. For $17 per device per year, that system addresses such potential headaches on a regular basis. In this case, Novell has offered a daylight savings time patch for months. Werner says the program is especially attractive to small businesses because it is compatible with legacy systems like Windows 98 and Windows XP.

Adam Gray, chief technology officer with Novacoast, a Salt Lake City-based IT and product development consultancy with about 100 employees, says the whole process of updating his company's computers took about 15 minutes with the help of Novell's product. “It was so easy,” Gray says. “I’m looking at companies that are struggling with this and what it tells me is that they don’t have their act together when it comes to standard system maintenance.”

There may be other such tests in the future. Many thought Y2K would be the last time that the tech world would have to grapple with a date-related issue, but Werner cautions that more changes may be on the horizon. “In two years, Congress could decide this isn’t working," he says, "and decide to go back.”