Your office equipment is giving you headaches. You'd like to replace it, but you're just not sure. Is it the right time? Is it worth the money? Can you get by with what you have? Should you buy new or used? You will need to assess the state of your current equipment and consider how it plays into your overall business plan. If your critical devices are obsolete or not functioning properly, then it's time for a change. But how do you decide?
The Question of Replacement
Business purchases under $100 may not matter so much. It all depends on your cash flow. Larger purchases – well, that's another story. The matter of money is probably the first thing to consider when contemplating the purchase of new office equipment. Even if you are flush with ready cash, you wouldn't be worth your salt in business if you didn't focus on the bottom line. But whether you can afford it will depend on the extent of the changes considered and their potential effect on profitability.
There are several reasons to upgrade your equipment. You may want to:
- Modernize your office
- Increase reliability
- Improve performance
- Add new functions
- Become more mobile
If you are satisfied with your current equipment – if it does everything you want it to do – then why would you want anything different? But if the frequent failures of your computers, servers, printers and other devices increase your frustration and aggravation, you will be on the lookout for alternatives. It may be an emotional rather than a logical decision, like when your old car is on its last leg – sometimes you have just had enough!
Jaime Hall of XCEL Office solutions writes that there are four signs that it may be time to replace your office equipment:
- Slow performance
- Overworked equipment
- Frequent security issues
Do you continually lose time and patience waiting for your computer to boot up or change displays, or for your printer or other peripherals to process jobs? Do you have hardware or software compatibility issues that cannot easily be resolved? Can your equipment keep up with the demands that you and your colleagues place upon it? Are you losing time and money on repairs? Don't forget to temper your emotional responses to your equipment failures with some sound logic and careful analysis.
Over time your personal computing device will deteriorate. (Blame it on the second law of thermodynamics.) It will also become obsolete. Your attempts to restore, repair or upgrade it will only delay the inevitable. As with the used car, you should weigh the costs of repairs against the costs and benefits of replacement. Sure, you can add RAM, replace drives and proudly demonstrate your hardware skills. But is it worth it?
Printing and Other Functions
It is common in the IT world to accumulate a hodgepodge of equipment from many vendors through the years. In large networks, legacy equipment often remains in service alongside newer equipment purchases. Network engineers enjoy the challenge of making them all work together. Eventually these devices are replaced with multi-service platforms that do it all in one box. The same is true in the office environment. Today's multi-function machines often combine printing, scanning, copying, faxing and other processes in one piece of networked equipment. Some of these are quite sophisticated, with robust menu systems and state-of-the-art displays.
When considering the purchase of new printing equipment, find out if the device:
- Is multi-functional
- Has wireless capability
- Can scan to email
- Has advanced functions
- Would meet your output needs
Alternatives to Replacement
According to Apex IT Group, there are four pieces of equipment that you don't need to replace:
- Your server unit can be replaced by a variety of cloud computing options. From file storage to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), the tasks and functions traditionally assigned to an in-house server can be trusted to a provider in the cloud.
- With a reliable internet connection, VoIP can take the place of your current phone system. The potential for significant cost savings could make this a very smart move.
- The age of the desktop computer may be coming to a close. Stationary workstations can be replaced with laptops or high-end tablets. This makes sense in the current mobile world.
- An alternative to the fax machine is a hosted fax server solution. Faxes can be sent or received directly from your inbox.
This approach to computing is reminiscent of the days of mainframes and remote terminals. They say that things go in cycles. You may find that this is the right time to re-orient your equipment toward a more centralized IT environment.
Should you buy new or used? I love my Toshiba laptop, but the monitor is busted, the battery is defective, and it has the marks of wear from its computing life spent traveling the world with a technology professional. Soon it will be replaced by a used laptop from a more sedentary (and careful) friend. I know, it's like getting another used car. But some people do it. (Read about my travels in my article IT Skills: Your Passport to Adventure.)
If you are still thinking of fixing your current laptop, consider these questions posed by Brian Westover in PC Magazine:
- Will upgrading the laptop solve my problem?
- Do I know how to do the upgrade?
- Is it worth it financially?
Remember that laptops are not as upgrade-friendly as desktop computers. I replaced the power connector on mine, but when putting the laptop back together I was never able to secure the miniature connector that was linked to my touchpad. And who doesn't lose a tiny screw now and then? But with the right know-how and steady hands, you can sometimes add life to your old friend until you can no longer postpone its retirement.
Replacing your printer with a used multi-function device is a good way to keep costs down, according to Terry Willis of the IT firm Marco. Depending on their usage, maintenance and history, high-quality printers can produce hundreds of thousands of copies during their lifetime, and may even last a decade if properly refurbished and maintained. Technology professional John Brown, who recycles both ink cartridges and printers, says that “if your main concern is the finished product – the printed material – refurbished machines can certainly fill that need.” Reconditioned office equipment is a viable option for cost-conscious or environmentally-concerned businesses.
The Office of the Future
Technology recycling may be the path for some. But others of you want to be on the cutting edge. You buy the latest technology and stay informed about the latest trends. In an interview about the future of the office, Thor Equities CEO Joseph Sitt claimed that “we are about to hit what I call 'Technology 3.0.'” Picture a new kind of work environment that could be described as an “open landscape,” “a communal environment” with no desks or offices. The cubicle, designed by Robert Propst in 1964 to empower people, is being replaced by an open floor plan in response to mobile technology.
“Mobile people end up where they want to be, not tethered to a desk where they have to be,” according to Ricky Biddle of the furniture company Steelcase. Technology professionals have been at the forefront of this movement. Laptop in hand, techs have been roaming the building or on the customer site, ready to plant themselves at any available hotdesk or table. Mobile devices and wireless peripherals make sense for the engineer on the go. (See my article Professor Donald Lupo and the Internet of Everything.)
When contemplating any replacement for your current office equipment, the best advice is to keep it mobile. The Internet of Everything is coming, and the increasing ubiquity of online connectivity requires agile and portable devices – until it all becomes gadget-less. Of course, cost considerations are primary for any business. But if you are not willing or able to ensure that everything in the office is shiny and new, you may want to think about recycling used computing equipment, or looking at any refurbished office products that may be on the market. Capital expenditures, whether you are part of a large company or you work as an independent professional, can make the difference between the success or failure of your enterprise.