Managing your technical infrastructure – Hardware Lifecycle and Budget

It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.

–J.R.R. Tolkien


How long ago did you buy your nonprofit’s computers?

Most individuals will regularly underestimate the age of a piece of technology, because they only remember the pain of purchasing (or the fun of the new gadget), but the passage of time is foggy in our head.  Therefore when the technician on the phone informs you that it has reached the end of its life, it comes as an unpleasant surprise.

“But I just replaced it!” is a common refrain, until further research reveals that it’s five years old.  How do you avoid these surprises and the accompanying surprise price tag?  By lifecycle planning for every device in your organization’s technical inventory.

Lifecycle planning isn’t the most exciting task, but to keep your budget in line, it’s as necessary as paying the monthly electric bill.  Depending upon the device, the lifecycle of an electronics device is between three and five years.  It also matters what kind of computer it is, whether it is business or consumer grade, and the specifications it has.

Specific brands are more setup for consumers – designed mostly for e-mail and web browsing (gaming is another topic altogether), and include ASUS and Hewlett Packard. These typically have a shorter lifespan and a lower level of configuration – lower amounts of memory, processor speed, and type of hard drive.

Brands such as Dell and Lenovo have lines designed for the business user – e-mail, robust processors for heavy productivity using Excel, Powerpoint, or Word, and even design work in CAD or video.  These computers can easily last five years or more (depending on usage).

Macs generally have a lifespan of 4 to 6 years, depending on the configuration and usage.   It is important, if you have Macs in your technology inventory to make sure they are set up to fit the work planned for the staff member.

Put simply, lifecycle planning is budgeting to replace computers on a schedule.

The first task is simply to list every computer, networking device, printer, and anything else in your inventory.  Your list should include the following:

  • Description
  • Manufacturer
  • Date of installation
  • Serial number
  • Warranty expiration

Once you have this information, review the warranty expiration dates and determine if you would like to extend the warranties, keep the device in operation with no warranty, or replace the device.  Depending on the purpose of the device, any of these options might be appropriate.

It’s also okay to move devices.  For example, maybe your designer has been complaining that the computer he or she is using is extremely slow and it takes forever to open files.  You discover that the computer is only two years old and wonder what’s the problem?  It could be that the computer is not configured for the job it is doing; another employee has a device that is 7 years old, and constantly shutting down.  Do you need two new computers?  Is the designer complaining without reason?

No, to both.  A standard business user setup is not going to work for a power user such as a designer who needs a faster processor, more memory and more storage than a standard business user.  In this scenario, it could be a simple matter of retiring the employee’s 7-year-old computer, assigning them the designer’s current computer and purchasing a computer configured for the designer’s work.  With one computer, you can improve the work life of two staff members.

Having an accurate inventory of the computers and other devices in your organization, allows you to plan your nonprofit’s purchases.  As a technical advisor to many companies, we find the clients who lifecycle plan have many fewer issues than clients who don’t.  One client feels that they need to replace computers every time they turn around, and feel frustrated each time.  The other does an annual review of computers and devices, makes purchasing decisions, and moves on.  The retired computers that are still usable are typically either donated to charities, or sold to employees for a low price.

Organizations and businesses make all sorts of planning documents to keep spending in line with plans.  Technology is not always in that mix, but to keep your technical inventory up to date, to make sure your staff members have the equipment needed to do their jobs well, make it part of your business planning process.

Teddie Linder is the operations and business manager for COVI.  She has over 20 years experience helping businesses use technology to accomplish their strategic goals.

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