When you're buying new IT equipment for a specific reason - such as to replace a broken piece of hardware - it can be hard to think about its broader impact on your business
However, your will have to manage every piece of technology you buy - no matter whether it's a cheap keyboard or a super-expensive server. So remember these key issues when purchasing new business IT.
- Set a budget. It's amazing how many businesses take the 'I'll replace it when it breaks' philosophy. With no IT budget in place, this approach isn't cost-effective - especially if it means you're unable to carry out key functions while you wait for new equipment to be delivered, checked, installed and configured. You must plan ahead, especially when it comes to equipment like servers, which can cost thousands of pounds.
- Match IT to your business needs. Your business needs should drive your IT requirements. Don't buy the latest equipment because it looks cool - buy it only if you need it. It's easy to waste money on technology without realising it, so get advice from a good IT supplier to ensure you buy appropriate kit. (As a side note, Microsoft found that the second highest activity for a computer after email was having it sit idle.)
- Think about maintenance. Don't underestimate the cost of ongoing management and maintenance. It's typical for a business to spend around 75% of its IT budget on maintaining existing technology, and only 25% on investing in new solutions. Often, a large proportion of that 75% is wasted by poor implementation and understanding of the equipment. Get it right first time, or you'll pay for the consequences over a lengthy period. Again, expert help is a good place to start.
- Go for managed services if you're outsourcing. Most IT support companies and suppliers offer 'managed services', which means they take care of all your day-to-day IT management. If your business can't afford a dedicated IT team, having your IT externally monitored and managed properly will stop lots of problems occurring in the first place. Managed services might cost a little more than an ad-hoc contract, but you'll see the value in reduced downtime and increased efficiency.
- Consider financing options carefully. Financing IT is no different to financing cars or sofas. Similar choices are available: instalments, delayed payment, etc. What's right for you will depend on your circumstances, but nowadays many businesses opt for a complete solution package. This means you buy hardware, engineering time, project management and support from one company, and pay a fixed monthly cost. You can also consider leasing equipment or shifting to cloud services, for which you usually pay a monthly subscription.
- Plan ahead. Maintaining an IT inventory can help you keep track of when you need to replace technology in your business. For instance, if you decide laptops should be replaced every three years, your inventory enables you to stick to this schedule. This can help you plan your IT purchasing in advance and ensure you have budgeted for all likely costs such as purchase, installation and training.
- Consider how you will dispose of old equipment. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive governs how you can dispose of IT equipment. Reputable suppliers will offer a disposal service - taking away your old equipment when they deliver your new pieces of kit.
- Keep an eye on new developments. The world of business IT changes fast, so try to keep track of the latest trends. For instance, it's easy to assume that you should replace your existing server with another one. However, you might be able to switch to cloud computing instead, replacing a complex piece of hardware with an external service for a manageable monthly cost. New technology can give you a competitive advantage. Ask your IT supplier for advice, and speak to other businesses to see what new technologies they've adopted.