Making hard decisions on upgrading business hardware

Old, outdated hardware has the potential to slow your team down and decrease productivity. In a worst-case scenario, older equipment could crash and lead you to lose years’ worth of key business data. Keeping your hardware up to date doesn’t just protect your business, it also gives you the platform from which to grow. But there’s more to consider than simply buying the latest equipment every year. Below we’ve outlined the factors to consider, including risks, costs, benefits, and upgrade options.

Risks and management

Your business relies on the smooth running of your hardware – what would the impact be if your hardware failed and you had hours, or even days, of downtime?  

For example, if your aging PC hardware fails and takes a day (or more) to fix, how much will your business suffer from that lost productivity? If you rely on a server to run your POS database and that goes down for weeks, how many sales will you lose in the interim?

As a business owner, it’s essential to have back-up and contingency plans, and to mitigate the risk of downtime. One way to build this into your business is by implementing a fault-tolerance system, where hardware failure does not cause services to go down. Another is investing in a managed service plan with your IT provider or simply having a go-to company that can assist during the unexpected be it day or night.

Planning for growth

When choosing your new PCs, servers, and other equipment, consider your future plans. What growth do you expect? For example, has your business been static for the last ten years, or are you experiencing a rapid expansion? Are you moving to a new office or expanding into new areas? Are you opening new stores? Your hardware requirements will be different depending on your growth trajectory – and how steep that is. Investing in hardware that serves your business needs now is critical – but it should also have the capacity to grow alongside your business.

Minding your business

You should also be conscious of the specific needs of your business – will you require extremely tight security and backups? Will you need to store, handle and share very large files? A software developer may need more sophisticated computers than a florist, for example. A company with a number of salespeople will need mobile devices, while a company with one small office may not. How you plan to use your hardware should help guide you on where to invest.

Money matters

Finance is an important consideration for any large purchase. Because IT hardware depreciates rapidly, it can sometimes make more sense to lease it long-term, and treat it as an ongoing business expense rather than an investment. One benefit of this system is that your equipment will generally be refreshed automatically every 3-5 years.

Cheaper options

While there are budget hardware options available, they usually come with a catch – cheap machines may be slower, less reliable, and often need upgrading sooner. This means that in the long run, you end up paying the same amount, or more, than you would have if you simply chose the better option in the first place.

Some businesses opt for less-expensive second-hand hardware, but that comes with its own issues too – you generally won’t get a warranty, and have little or no recourse if something breaks down.

Moving into the cloud

Moving your IT to the cloud gives you continuous access to highly scalable systems from anywhere, but initially there will be costs associated with the move.

If you decide that a cloud-based system is right for your business, there are clever ways to redesign the way your IT operates to make things simpler and more cost effective. So rather than simply moving what you currently do to the cloud, you can look for smarter ways to achieve the same output – it just requires a bit of expert advice. For example, moving a mail system such as Microsoft Exchange from on premise directly to the cloud would be a costly exercise. Moving to a SaaS solution, like Office 365, would give you more functionality, and would be much less expensive.

Don’t forget software

Replacing IT hardware is a good time to think about upgrading, migrating, or even decommissioning your software systems as well. Sometimes this will be a choice, but sometimes new hardware automatically leads to new software.

One basic example: when you upgrade a PC, you’ll usually get the latest version of Windows as well. If you’ve been using a particular software programme for some time, it may not be compatible with newer machines or mobile devices.

Considering a subscription-based software may also be the way forward. Instead of buying the required software outright as a disc, you can have a subscription and simply upgrade it when your hardware changes.

Storage space

Data storage is one consideration that people often forget. Before you invest in a new server, NAS, or PC, make sure it will have enough storage space for your existing data. You’ll also need to think about your future storage needs – don’t buy a system with just enough storage space if your business is growing rapidly.

This could be a good time to think about migrating data to the cloud, archiving older files that you don’t need to access every day, and cleaning up your data in general.

Planning ahead

Do you have a technology plan for the next financial year? Changes in your IT hardware or software should be planned in advance. One way to ensure you are making the correct decisions is to bring in a consultant to create your plan for you – they can work within your time lines and budgets.

PCs and networking equipment will usually be in stock with suppliers, but specialist servers and custom equipment may need to be ordered and shipped from overseas. With a future plan, you are allowing for this time and your equipment can be ordered in advance.

Downtime is also a consideration. Some upgrades will require complex installation, which may affect the business for hours or days. However, this work can often be scheduled around your business hours to minimise the impact.

Do you need to speak to someone about your upgrade requirements or plan?