The right time to refresh your computer fleet


computer keyboardSome companies tend to replace their whole PC fleets at regular intervals while other companies lean toward the “replacement as needed” scenario. This decision should be based on the needs of the business, but generally speaking the latter one can cause unpredictable side effects and higher costs in the long run.

In case of sudden system failure, you may need to act quickly to keep your business running smoothly. That will leave you little time to find an optimal and cost-effective solution.

The recommended refreshment period is three to five years. In other words you should to replace 20-33 percent of your workstations every year.

david darmstandler
David Darmstandler

Stanford University’s IT department has a minimum standard for what computers can do. For teaching staff, the standard is that the computer can handle having at least four applications open at the same time. And the university expects to replace computers every three to four years.

It’s just one example, but it’s a good one because Stanford’s policies are a reminder that the hardware refresh cycle is all about making sure you’ve asked the right questions.

What is the cost of not refreshing? Longer refresh cycles save money, but what is the cost of employees working on sluggish machines? They would be more productive working on fast and responsive PCs, so refresh cost and productivity should be examined together.

What about the support cost? Computers usually cost more to support in their declining years. Hardware components tend to fail after a few years and multiple versions of operating systems and software require more testing and more work from your IT team.

But let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Start with asking yourself a few questions.

What’s a computer supposed to do?

Have you gone beyond the question of the raw cost of upgrading and asked, as Stanford has, exactly what your computers should be able to do? Many knowledge workers would expect to be running far more than four applications simultaneously. Are your workers among them?

Having an answer to the question gives you further support for the refresh cycle you’ve chosen.

Do my computers run the latest software?

If your computer balks at running the newer office applications, graphic heavy games or movies, it may not have the resources or hardware to handle them.

You can upgrade the hardware if your machine is only a few years old and in otherwise good condition, but if you have a business that relies on many of the newer office applications, it really makes more sense to replace the computer.

Can I store the data that’s important?

If you have a lot of programs, documents, images, music or movies and you find yourself having to continually move things to disk or delete something to make room for something else, you definitely need a bigger hard drive.

You could just move everything, including your operating system to a new hard drive, but the need for more space is also an indication that you need a more efficient computer as well.

What is the productivity cost of not refreshing?

A slower refresh cycle saves money, but have you compared that to the cost of employees waiting for applications to load or function?

Intel found that a faster refresh cycle brought an average productivity improvement of 9.7 percent over a range of tasks. You don’t have to rely on Intel’s numbers; you can do your own analysis.

Looking at productivity and refresh costs together will give you additional confidence in your decision, whatever it is.

When do support costs peak?

Just like the rest of us, computers cost more to support in their declining years. It’s not just the hardware starting to fail, but also the burden of maintaining multiple versions of operating systems and software.

It’s inevitable that you have to refresh your computers at some point. It isn’t inevitable that you have to spend a fortune keeping updated computers limping toward the end of a too-long life. Again, the trick is to look at the numbers and find the sweet spot between the two expenses.

Many staff get frustrated and disgruntled when technology fails or starts to run slow. One significant advantage to refreshing your computer fleet is happier staff and increased productivity. Employees usually feel valued if they can work with current systems and new technologies.

David Darmstandler is CEO of Datapath, an IT services company with headquarters in Modesto. You can reach him at [email protected].


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