Red Cross pumped IT resources into DST work


FRAMINGHAM- Platelets that help blood to clot have only a five-day shelf life, so every hour counts for the American Red Cross during the process of collecting, storing and distributing them.

As a result, the Red Cross couldn’t afford to have any hitches with the time stamps and other time-related settings in its systems when daylight-saving time started three weeks earlier than it had in past years.

To make sure its systems worked properly after the time change took effect, the nonprofit agency began grappling with the DST issue late last year. In mid-January, in the midst of the conversion effort, it hired a new chief technology officer, Nida Davis Roemer, who previously was chief enterprise architect at the Federal Reserve. Her first major task at the Red Cross was the time change.

With an internal DST readiness assessment in hand, Roemer set up a 16-person team to oversee all aspects of the conversion work. The team included a project manager, a systems architecture specialist, a lead engineer and a risk management officer, among others.

The team met twice a week to review the progress being made. Roemer met with the project manager every morning for updates and spoke with team members by phone at the end of each workday. “This was very helpful because of the level of complexity of the project,” she said.

The Red Cross has a wide assortment of hardware and software that needed to be reviewed, updated and tested, and there were also compatibility and interdependency issues to contend with. Roemer said some of the DST team members and other IT workers occasionally slept in the agency’s data center while working nights and weekends on the conversion effort.

The agency identified six core applications that had to be updated before the time change, along with another 50 related applications that were deemed to be mission-critical. The six core applications included a national blood-tracking system and programs that the Red Cross uses to collect blood-testing results, maintain records from blood drive donations, handle case management during disasters and process its e-mail.

Altogether, the agency has about 200 applications in use, and 158 of them needed remediation, said Roemer. The biggest challenges involved the e-mail servers and applications that are based on the Java Runtime Environment. She said the JRE applications were complicated “because there are so many different versions” of the Sun Microsystems software that required updating.

Meanwhile, IT workers had to fix 168 e-mail servers running Exchange Server 2003. Updates to 162 of the systems went well, but six had problems that were still being investigated by Red Cross staffers last week. “We had mixed results,” Roemer said.

To provide information about the DST project to the agency’s 35,000 employees and 1 million volunteers, the IT team built a Web portal that uses Microsoft SharePoint collaboration software. Content available on the portal includes tutorials showing how users can update their own systems in local offices.

Another important tool was an Excel spreadsheet nicknamed “the Dig” that provided a view of every server by name, number and location. It also listed each operating system, database, application and piece of hardware used by the Red Cross, as well as the interdependencies between them. “Every component we needed to take care of was on the Dig list,” Roemer said.

Two weeks ago, as the deadline drew near, the DST team was forced to bring in additional people from within IT to get the compliance work done — or else face the prospect of shutting down applications during production usage times. That wasn’t an option, according to Roemer.

The time change doesn’t end the agency’s DST-related work. The Red Cross also has created a mobilization plan to help it deal with the switch back to standard time, which will start on Nov. 4 — one week later than in previous years.

“It will be a regular IT item for us to track for future DST changes,” Roemer said.

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