I was once told the best time to buy new tech is tomorrow and the best time to sell the tech you no longer need is yesterday. With most tech hardware products refreshed annually it seems almost impossible to perfectly match your buying patterns to the release cycles of hardware manufacturers. Today's announcement of the new Surface Pro had me thinking - how do you ensure you're getting the best bang for buck when buying new hardware?
IT budgets are under constant pressure to do more with less. To some degree, the amount of money being spent on technology isn't being reduced but redistributed. For example, the advent of SaaS has resulted in some software spending shifting from IT to sales, marketing, HR and other departments. Capital expenditure is shifting towards operational expenditure as companies stop building data centres and using the likes of Microsoft Azure and AWS.
However, you will always (at least be highly likely) need to buy some hardware. And I'm thinking about the humble notebook and desktop PCs we still rely on for much of our work.
For the purpose of this discussion, I'm going to include larger tablets and 2-in-1 devices like the Surface Pro and iPad Pro in this as I think they fit the bill as portable computers. Smartphones are a different kettle of fish as the purchasing process for those is often tied to phone contracts and BYOD arrangements.
Planning an annual PC buying cycle
Most businesses will have a core fleet of computers that is retained over a long period. Three years used to be the norm as it was tied to the tax office's depreciation rules for computer hardware. But I'm seeing companies hold on to hardware for an extra year - particularly when it comes to desktops.
The last IT department I ran had a relatively straight forward buying cycle for desktop and notebook PCs. Each year, about a third of the fleet was replaced. The way we chose what new systems we would replace the old with came down to a simple equation - bang for buck.
We set an upfront budget of $1000 per computer. That included a minimum hardware spec that we revised annually and an on-site warranty for the duration of the device's life. The life of the device was determined by the leasing arrangements.
When we added a new system to the fleet, in between the main annual refresh periods, we simply slotted that machine into either the previous or next cycle.
Ad hoc purchasing
An annual process works well when much of the fleet is being used by a fixed set of users. In the case I described before, it was a school with about 1000 students and 130 staff. Student computers were school assets so we could hand them down from one group of students to the next. And staff turnover was sufficiently low that ad hoc purchases during the year were limited.
In my next IT leadership role, with an energy company, things were more fluid. The company was a start up and new staff were joining each month.
What I really needed there was a strong relationship with a single vendor that could ensure the systems I bought could be easily managed so I could easily drop a standard system image on them, easily integrate them into our software management systems and fold them into the support arrangements I had in place.
The temptation in that environment was to buy the latest and greatest whenever a new system was needed (never mind the personal desire of some members of management to get the newest system and pass their older computer to the newbie!). So it took some discipline to ensure we only bought systems that were within budget and could be easily integrated into our existing system management processes.
Putting a plan together
The critical thing, in my view, is to actually have a plan. That plan needs to cover options for fixed and mobile staff, a minimum set of requirements that is couched in terms of functions rather than speeds and feeds, and a budget.
Establish relationships with vendors that can advise you about product release cycles and be prepared to either take advantage of pre-release sales (the Surface Pro 4 has been heavily discounted by some vendors in anticipation of today's Surface Pro 5 release) or to ensure you get the latest models, particularly if the prices don't change.
While BYOD might be trendy, a lot of businesses still rely on traditional procurement systems to supply computer gear to staff.
Building a plan that insulates you from the release cycles of vendors and the temptation to jump to the latest and what looks to be the greatest.