ICT Equipment Replacement Strategy

By Morgan Killick

This article examines the reasons for regular replacement of ICT equipment and looks at the timescales, costs and planning considerations involved in a major upgrade.

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Introduction

How many times do we see the latest computers advertised on television as 'future proof'? Whilst any computer you buy should always be able to do whatever you originally purchased it for, the chances are that after just a handful of those years, both the way you work and your expectations of your computer will have advanced significantly. With your equipment having little worth on the balance sheet and staff complaining of slow performance, can you afford not to replace these items?

Why Replace?

Technology is bought in the context of a specific need. Over time these needs change dramatically. Twenty years ago, your typical office worker didn't even possess a typewriter. These days, most are expected to type their own letters, operate databases, communicate by email and browse the internet. We accept the associated technology costs because we can see that - duly kitted out - our staff are more productive, creative, organised and effective.

The main drivers for replacing stock are internal - taking advantage of those better, quicker and more effective ways of working. But even if you don't accept this rationale, there are other vital reasons to save now in order to replace ICT equipment in future. Reasons that, whether you like it or not, will necessitate this expenditure at some point.

Outdated hardware, wear and tear

Firstly, a computer is made up of a bunch of electronic components that are designed to push the limits of speed and performance at a given price point. With massive investment in technology, the pace of innovation is very fast. The 'latest' cutting edge component can go from expensive luxury to cheap and commonplace within months. In a year or so this product may not be manufactured any more. This means that, in general, the older the technology, the more likely it is to be uneconomical to repair. At the same time, with continued use and the action of heat, dust, power fluctuations, physical shocks and wear and tear (in the case of hard drives), the machine is more likely to fail.

Operating System Obsolescence

Secondly, a computer is more than a box full of parts. The demands of the software you run may well necessitate a new machine before the hardware goes wrong. All operating systems have a lifecycle - usually 5 to 8 years - a period in which the vendor undertakes to fix bugs, offer upgrades and security patches. Inside this period, updates can slow a computer down. Outside it, the vendor is putting all effort into marketing and promoting enhancements that will only be available to customers of its new product. Your colleagues, clients, and those who provide support to you will be using and focussing on the new system. In time, you can find yourself needing an upgrade just to standardise and stay supported.

Demands of modern software

Thirdly, it's not just operating systems and hardware that have this inbuilt obsolescence. Application software (accounts packages, graphic design packages, office suites etc.) often demand the latest technical specifications. Whether this is actually necessary or not is another subject, but the effect is that all of those things you bought your computer for ALSO have a lifecycle involving new releases in an effort to become ever faster, more effective, more competitive, securer and more desirable. What's more, you can all but guarantee that that the latest releases will require ever more processing power!

When and How Much?

Whether it's because things have reached the end of their lifecycle or because you will have different needs in future, you will have to replace most of your ICT equipment eventually. The key to success then is careful saving over time. If you have budgeted consistently over a number of years, you are free to choose the timing of your investment and are ready to pay for it before it creeps up on you.

From an organisational point of view, if you are looking at new premises, expanding staffing levels, upgrading a key company database or changing the physical delivery of services, these are all good times to take a look at whether the new system you have been saving for ought to be put into place too.

To aid your planning, the following table brings together the expected life spans for various items of computer equipment and a rough replacement cost including software, installation and support. This is not to say that these items have to be replaced at that time (see above) rather this should be used as a basis for saving. We also look at some of the mitigating factors that may allow you to prolong beyond what would normally be expected.

 

ICT Equipment life span
ItemCycleRationaleMitigating FactorsTotal Cost
PCs 4 years Current technologies can be out of date/ hard drives more unreliable within 3-4 years

Reduced performance with updates and software

User expectation increases
Often scope for upgrading 'mid-cycle'   'Clean' install of operating system can prolong life £500 per unit
Laptops 2 years Laptops more susceptible to wear and tear Expensive to repair Lower performance per £ Can be expected to last much longer if not used much! £500 per unit
Servers 5 years Being left permanently on and heavily used, suffers more stress on core components.   Server software at end of supportable lifecycle.   Server software upgrades may well require new hardware Advisable to budget for routine replacement unless the organisation clearly does not need in future. £2500-£5000 per unit
Monitors 5 years Health & safety and aesthetic reasons often drive organisations to replace. Monitors rarely go wrong and usually come with 3 year warranties. There are few technical reasons to change them. £100 each
Printers (large) 3-5 years All too often it works out cheaper to buy a replacement printer than to replace consumables Some scope for reconditioned printers/components £250-2500
Core Networking Infrastructure 10 years Advisable to budget to take advantaged of future innovations Networking equipment itself is unlikely to fail even with heavy traffic £40 per person

Planning Considerations

So by now you have the money set aside and a rough idea of when you might need to replace things. All that remains is to plan the upgrade properly, and this means taking the following steps:

  • Audit Current Systems: Make a list of what you have, its approximate age and specifications if you know them. Tools like Spiceworks  can help here. Ensure you count software in the audit too.
  • Take Advice and Appoint a Project Champion: IT professionals will be used to planning and managing large upgrades - find one you can trust and work with them to identify what is really needed. Ensure you have someone 'on the inside' who backs the project.
  • Obtain and Understand Quotes: Get clear quotes that state what you are buying and know why these things are needed. If your IT professional doesn't offer you the clarity you need, ask them about the detail!
  • Change Management: Ensure the project champion takes responsibility for managing the impact on the organisation. Assess how staff will cope with new systems - do they need training? How well informed are they on what is going to happen?
  • Backup and File Management: Ensure  data is backed up and (if you are replacing servers or PCs) you work with your supplier to ascertain how files will be moved from old to new kit.
  • Plan for Disruption: Many organisations commission an upgrade and expect to be able to work throughout. Depending on what you are replacing though, you might have to face significant downtime. Consider using temporary solutions and workarounds if needs be.
  • Disposal & Re-Use: If you have plans to re-use stock or offer it to others, let your supplier know, as work may need to be done to 'clean-up' the equipment. If it is not going to be re-used it will have to be safely and securely disposed of. Note that monitors are considered hazardous waste.
  • Handling the Aftermath: Don't expect everything to be perfect after your upgrade. Not only might you encounter some teething troubles but also don't forget that operating new equipment in itself presents new challenges. Make sure you have access to support from your supplier and project champions to smooth the transition and be able to lending a helping hand.

Conclusion

The ICT systems you currently run are products of particular needs at particular times. Over a number of years these needs will change both in accordance with internal pressures (changes in the way you work and functionalities and performance you expect), and external drivers such as the lifespan of a particular operating system, database or item of hardware. Like it or not, the replacement of ICT equipment is an inevitable task that will have to be faced some day.

Careful saving over time, based on the expected lifecycles of equipment, will mean that you can afford to do it in a managed and organised manner - when it suits you and with minimal disruption to staff and the work of your organisation.

Copyright © 2007 Morgan Killick

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.


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