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A Future Worth Seeing

An industry executive looks into the crystal ball and likes what he sees.

It’s no secret that small-to-medium sized businesses (SMBs) are a notoriously spendthrift bunch when it comes to budgeting for their Information Technology. But SMBs often waste a lot of money by holding on to their obsolete, ad hoc computer systems that, more often than not, hinder their workers’ ability to get work done efficiently.

Most SMBs don’t know this, but on average they spend from $220 to $275 a month per user in software, hardware and maintenance due to a poorly constructed computer infrastructure. Maintenance often is the biggest money gobbler.

Steinbrecher & Associates is a law office in Encino, Calif. The firm had a computer system that can easily be described as ad hoc. It had two new desktop computers and a number of white box computers that ranged from three to five years in age. Operating systems installed in those computers ranged from Windows 98 to Microsoft XP – and everything in between. They had two servers, one used for files and the other used for e-mail. The file server had no hard-drive space left.

They eventually realized that their computer structure was costing them too much money in maintenance and lost productivity.

In response, the law firm developed a new computer infrastructure that standardized on Hewlett-Packard servers along with Hewlett-Packard PCs for each end-user. The end result: a more harmonious system with the same OS and applications across the network, reducing the crippling downtime and inefficiencies that are more difficult to quantify.

Outdated computer structures like the one at Steinbrecher & Associates typically occur because SMBs have one stand-in IT person–usually somebody’s cousin or friend–doing this work on a part-time basis. Some SMBs also engage in pirated software, which might save the SMB customer money on license fees but introduces a whole new set of maintenance issues that pump up long-term costs, especially when it comes to security.

The money saved by maintaining out-dated PCs is often spent in excess on support and maintenance. According to a recent Gartner report, nearly 74 percent of the overall cost of a PC is incurred after the purchase through maintenance and support. That cost typically grows faster after the third or fourth year with expired warranties, patches and repairs and time lost from system delays and failures.

So while most SMBs think they’re saving money through maintaining outdated systems, their companies are incurring more costs through maintenance and support of those older systems. Plus, there is a direct correlation between newer PCs and an increase in employees’ productivity. They don’t have to deal with down time that often happens with older PCs, such as software driver issues, application conflict errors, and hardware failures.

Any small business that is evaluating its computer structure should strive to make all the desktops in sync with each other–all running the same operating system and compatible applications–so that when a new employee comes into the fold you can easily configure a computer that automatically installs the necessary O/S and applications, including any feature customization.

One way to avoid the upfront costs of buying a new system, while replacing older systems, is through a leasing program with a three-year upgrade option. Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Dell all offer small business leases. HP, for example, offers a three-year upgrade option and leasing for all products sold by the company–even non-HP products. By standardizing its computer infrastructure and conducting daily diagnostic maintenance, an SMB can save somewhere between 30 to 46 percent in maintenance costs.

Another Gartner report earlier this year shows that large companies are seeing the wisdom in replacing their computer systems on a regular basis. Gartner surveyed 177 large businesses about the life span of their PCs. The majority of those businesses reported that the average life of their desktops was 43 months and for notebooks it was 36 months. The number one reason for replacing their PCs was user productivity issues like system failures and performance.

SMBs need to adopt the same standards that any Fortune 500 company engages in. The average SMB is sophisticated and knowledgeable about the latest laptop and desktop on the market. They know their speeds and feeds pretty well, but they falter in not seeing the big picture. In being too granular, they get “nickel and dimed” on an outdated and inefficient infrastructure. A return on investment is not just a big company concept; it translates into real dollars for SMBs too.

Douglas Hafford is vice president of sales and co-founder of Afinety, a provider of automated computer networks and remote diagnostic support.

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