Putting a lot of energy into time

Lisa Napoli Mar 9, 2007

Putting a lot of energy into time

Lisa Napoli Mar 9, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: Whatever you’re going to do this weekend, you’d best plan on getting it done more quickly. Daylight Saving Time starts early this year. Early Sunday morning to be precise. Two years ago Congress moved up the time change by three weeks. It was part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that was chock full of ways to save energy. Marketplace’s Lisa Napoli reports nobody factored in how much energy it would take to make the change happen.

LISA NAPOLI: You know how you always forget to move at least one of the clocks in your house forward after the time change? And how that can set off a moment of confusion or even panic?

Now, think about the clock on your computer at the office. That’s tied to the clock in the office next to yours, that’s tied to the corporate office in another city. Imagine what would happen if that didn’t get updated. Meetings might get missed. E-mails would be time-stamped incorrectly.

KEVIN WATNE: It’s just a very interesting phenomenon — how much we’re all connected and things you don’t think of.

That’s technology consultant Kevin Watne. He and other I.T. experts around the country have been working around the clock for the past few weeks. They’re updating computer systems that are programmed to think Daylight Saving Time is still a few weeks away.

He says as we often forget until something like this happens, digital clocks are everywhere.

WATNE: The hotel access into your room is through a magnetic card, typically. Those doors have a timeclock on them so that you can disable access when you check out. Unfortunately, they’re not necessarily set up to take updates like this.

So around the country, Watne says, hotel workers are manually updating, door by door. Then there are the timepieces that run on a centralized system.

LANCE ULANOFF: Alright, we’re on the phone right now and I’m looking at the phone and I know when we hang up I’ll see a clock there.

That’s Lance Ulanoff of PC Magazine.

ULANOFF: And that is controlled by software. And most of the electronic phone systems in America have had to be upgraded.

So since we’ve known for two years that this was going to happen, you’re probably wondering why none of this got fixed sooner. That’s because software couldn’t be installed until last November, after the last time we switched the clocks.

Now, calculating the cost of all this patching and upgrading of software isn’t easy. But technology consultant Kevin Watne cites a report from the Gartner Group that looks at one slice of the impact.

WATNE: If you just look at the 7,000 top companies that are out there, they’re going to lose somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000 of productivity just due to the calendar issues. Just factoring that into it, that’s over $350 million.

That’s not including what it costs to pay for all the overtime for I.T. crews. One of Marketplace’s own I.T. staff, Dean Smith, has already put in 16 hours of overtime this week. He’ll be working all weekend, hoping nothing goes wrong.

DEAN SMITH: If nothing happens by 9 o’clock Sunday morning, maybe I’ll go out and play a round of golf or something.

But an I.T. guy’s work is never done. In a couple of years, Congress will evaluate whether the time change really did save energy. And if it didn’t, more energy will get spent switching back to the old Daylight Saving Time.

In Los Angeles, I’m Lisa Napoli for Marketplace.

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