All appliances have an effective lifespan. Computers are no different. Over time, components can and do fail and software advances render what may have once been a top-of-the-line system slow and ineffective. Hardware failures and outdated systems can cost big in productivity losses, expensive fixes, and unintended downtime.
A study of small businesses has found that the cost of maintenance and lost productivity with older PCs can add up to over $500 per PC that is over 4 years old. That's not chump change and can really add up in offices which depend on multiple PCs and servers.
So how do we combat these costs? By creating and sticking to an IT life-cycle plan.
The IT Lifecycle
Most small businesses are a little averse to upgrading PC hardware. The most common reason is cost. But diving a bit deeper we found the primary driver behind the cost assumptions was mindset.
When a business typically starts or goes through a transitioning phase, most technology is all purchased upfront. That's a big pill to swallow for sure and definitely not something any business owner or board wants to have to think about doing regularly. But when it comes to upgrading existing systems this is exactly what they think about: the enormous original bill. As a result, most companies are content to stick with the status quo and only replace things when it becomes absolutely necessary, not thinking about this like lost productivity and extra maintenance costs.
Creating a lifecycle plan for computer and office equipment helps both lessen the potential bottom-line impact of upgrading equipment while also helping keep modern, up to date systems in crucial roles where it can serve the biggest impact for the business.
Benefits of a lifecycle plan
Computers in a any business environment will always need eventual replacement over time. It is important to plan and prepare for this end of service life to limit unplanned downtime, increasing costs and losses in productivity. Doing so helps to plan a regular, predictable IT budget, less prone to sudden financial spikes. It also allows the business to stay on top of software licenses, upgrades and Operating System changes. By cycling old and out of date systems from the network, security vulnerabilities are drastically reduced and easier to patch.
Additional financial security comes from manufacturer warranties for businesses that adopt the life cycle. As new equipment is purchased into the firm, manufacturer warranties provide guarantees about the handling of defects and hardware issues. This warranty may cover most, or all of the duration of the equipment's intended life cycle. This extra coverage provides an extra layer of financial security from unpredictable IT issues.
Starting your lifecycle
If your company doesn't yet have a plan in place, it's time to do so. Again, you don't necessarily need to replace everything at once but the ultimate goal of your lifecycle plan is to have everything refreshed within a set timeframe and then continue to keep things fresh on a regular, rolling basis.
This process starts with a thorough plan outlining the demands of the business itself. By looking at how and where equipment is deployed we can make the most out of the resources throughout the business. Knowledge is power, and having an accurate and complete inventory of equipment in your organization is an absolute must.
The next step is to look at ways reduce equipment which may be duplicated or underused within the firm. A good example is a recent client who was shuddering at buying more than a dozen $1500 PC setups to replace their existing systems. After assessing their situation, it was determined they didn't really need to shell out for full desktops and were better off investing in their server infrastructure and then gradually buying cheaper thin-clients to replace the PCs.
Prioritize and stagger
Once you've obtained your inventory of equipment and your outline of business demands, it's time to use that information to prioritize which systems should be upgraded right away, and which can wait. Anything that contains business-critical data or software should be high on the list and kept as "fresh" as possible.
Systems that aren't mission-critical can given a lower priority but shouldn't be overlooked as they can quickly become a thorn in your side if ignored.
Also don't be afraid to make the most of your current resources. As equipment approaches the end of its effective lifespan it can be brought in for replacement and recycling. Some old hardware and components can also be reused and recycled in new roles as they are decommissioned from their primary role. For example, an architectural firm re-uses it's old design workstations for their sales and reception team thus only needing to worry about replacing top-level systems.
Planning for the future
Once your initial plan is set to replace existing hardware, it's time to take that information and plan out to regularly replace a set amount of hardware each year. Most computer systems have an expected lifespan of about 3-5 years.
Most good, business-grade hardware has a ~3 year warranty. Cycling hardware on a 3 year basis helps keep everything under warranty which can be a big cost-saver in the event of hardware failure. Cycling every 3 years though may not be within the budget for some small businesses so stretching to 4 or 5 years can also be done. Keep in mind once systems start climbing up in age, performance and productivity start to drop which can harm your companies efficiency. It's not advisable to have systems more than 5 years old as the costs to production really start to skyrocket past the 5 year mark.
Tracking changes to everything
Obviously the point of any business is to grow. Technology also continues to go through rapid change. As a result, it's important to keep an eye on the horizon and watch for upcoming events which may require shifts (Windows 7 End-of-Life) or present new opportunities to change how your company uses technology (cloud workspaces or hardware as a service). Be sure to regularly review your plan to make sure it still aligns with your overall business goals and direction.
Control your lifecycle and maximize efficiency
With a fully planned, fully prepared life cycle, IT budgets can be planned in detail for years to come. Everything from printers to operating systems can be prepared on a tightly controlled schedule. This allows you to set a much more solid, and palatable budget going forward.
Businesses worldwide have adopted IT life cycles as a way to eliminate unwanted surprises, lessen productivity losses, and make the most out of IT budgets. Implementing or redesigning your own IT life cycle can greatly improve efficiency within your business.
Have questions or need help coming up with a solid lifecycle plan for your business or organization? Let us know and we'd be happy to help.