Buying technology on a piecemeal basis can leave your business vulnerable to higher service costs and network security threats.
By Andrea Holved
Most companies start small and grow over time, accumulating new workstations and tech systems as increased demand and revenue call for it. Usually, the hardware and software purchases made by SMBs aren’t part of a carefully planned investment strategy.
Thus, SMBs often end up with whatever was on sale at the time, or recommended or requested by an employee—a fine short-term strategy, maybe, but one that can leave you with a hodgepodge of technology to operate and unnecessarily high IT costs down the road.
The smarter approach to tech purchases is standardization. Recommended by IT and security experts, standardization essentially means that instead of buying whatever device you like the most or found for the cheapest price, your hardware, software, and system purchases are guided by a clear technical norm.
The difference can be surprising. Marcus Miller, the IT manager at Vinyl to Digital, a U.K.-based company that translates analog media to digital files, says that just one year ago, Vinyl to Digital was operating with workstations that had “different versions of Windows, different brands of PCs, different CD writers, different video capture cards—everything was different on each machine right down to the keyboards and mice used.”
Consequently, almost nothing worked together. “A new PC would not have the right slot for the video card. The sound would not capture on one machine but would on another. A driver that worked for XP would not work for Windows 7,” he says. “It was a nightmare.”
As the technical issues grew and began to cause a decline in productivity and a backlog of unfinished customer orders, Miller knew that a major change was necessary. He selected an operating system and a PC kit to use as Vinyl to Digital’s standard workstation, and outfitted the entire company with the new setup. He found software, drivers, sound cards and video capture cards that were compatible with the standardized workstation, and bought large supplies of them so there would always be spares.
“It was painful, expensive and took about six months, but now support is easy and support costs have plummeted,” Miller says. “If something goes down, it is a simple job to crack the case and add in a replacement. I know what will work.” The amount of time he spends on technology maintenance is less than a quarter of what it was two years ago, he says.
“You will need to invest in new equipment and assign time to get the work done, but if you look at costs and support time over a 12-month period, you will be winning,” Miller says.
Longer-lasting tech tools
You’ll also get a longer lifespan out of your equipment, says Phil Gibbs, the co-owner and director of Pure Planet Recycling Limited, a U.K.-based computer recycling company.
“When we receive end-of-life IT equipment, we often see companies that have standardized their kit—it’s very easy to spot,” he says. “There will be complete systems in working condition along with a few machines missing parts that have clearly been ‘donor’ machines to keep others running.”
Gibbs says this way of “Frankenstein-ing” machines helps companies extend the lifespan of their equipment and delay purchasing new hardware. Proof that this strategy works is evident in what he recycles from companies that don’t standardize, he says: Their equipment tends to be more recent technology.
Focus on security, not tech sales
An appetite for the latest tech deals generally leads to piecemeal purchases, and that can make it harder to keep business and customer data secure.
“Generally, small businesses don’t standardize technology at all, because they’re always thinking about deals,” says Ondrej Krehel, the CTO and founder of LIFARS, a New York-based cyber-security intelligence firm.
“When you’re just buying parts, you can get really good deals,” he says.
But most small companies either lose their purchase-price savings to increased maintenance costs later, as Vinyl to Digital did, or to shorter hardware lifespans because they’ve skipped maintenance altogether, as Gibbs has observed. And there’s another consideration: The tangible and intangible costs of network security issues that arise when business systems aren’t properly designed and serviced.
“Having a standardized IT technology makes it easier to not just secure your network, but also to respond and mitigate a threat in case you do become a target,” Krehel says.
The more systems you use, the less likely your network administrator is to have mastered any one of them; standardization narrows the focus to one system, which puts the business in a more agile position when an emergency arises, he says.
“Business owners need to think long-term and plan ahead,” Krehel says. “Standardizing your IT hardware and software will help achieve just that.”
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