Top 3 things to know when buying computer hardware and software


August 9, 2018

IT Compliance (45)

Buying hardware or software is no cakewalk. Computers are so powerful and serve such a diverse range of purposes that it’s difficult to identify equipment and applications to suit your needs. And if you’re selecting software and hardware on team members’ behalf, that complexity only increases.

The issue of expense presents another hurdle. Many IT solutions have a high startup cost, which makes it tempting to spring for the cheapest devices and applications you can find. However, cost shouldn’t be the determining factor when selecting devices and programs. In fact, purchasing equipment on price alone often costs more in the long run, since you may have to pay to replace these IT assets more frequently. Here are three things to consider instead.

1. You might need team member input

When buying software, you’re likely looking to fulfill a specific function or task. Your best bet is to weigh different options by reading user reviews, such as those on CNET or Capterra. Also, take advantage of demos and free trials that give you a chance to test-drive tools for yourself, and be sure to consider mobility: Modern applications frequently come with online features that allow users to work from multiple devices, which is a must-have for many workers.

For equipment like monitors, desktops and laptops, your requirements may be a little less clear-cut. Certain team members—a website developer or graphic designer, for instance—might require machines with high CPU, RAM and quality video cards, while other roles place a higher premium on mobility or ease of use.

Because of this, it’s usually wise to get team members involved in the process of gathering equipment and software requirements. Once you understand how employees use computers and applications, particularly for highly technical work, you’ll be better able to identify devices and programs to meet their needs. Some businesses even implement “bring your own device” policies, which allow team members to use their own equipment and applications in place of a work computer.

2. Cheaper isn’t always better

PCs and other equipment can age out quickly, which means you may need to spend money on replacing devices every several years if you want your systems to stay current. High-dollar computers and other devices often last longer than value buys, but these might not be worth much to you if you find you’re often buying new devices or scaling your resources up and down.

That said, PC desktops can often be upgraded with updated components that extend their usefulness and stave off obsolescence, though this is not the case with Mac machines or laptops. These upgrades will add to your equipment’s total cost of ownership (TCO), but they may keep a more affordable machine running for longer.

When evaluating machines, consider the cost versus the CPU, RAM, screen resolution (for PCs) and hard drive size. Again, these specifications depend on what the device will be used for, but you can often locate minimal requirements for various roles and functions by performing a quick Google search. An IT solutions provider might also help you identify potential candidates, particularly if you’re shopping for servers.

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The brand and machine/application reputation count here as well, particularly in the case of software. Since the advent of cloud computing, it’s been much easier for developers to create and distribute lightweight alternatives to popular applications. These tools are often offered at reduced monthly costs—or possibly even for free—but they might not have the robust features or APIs of their costlier cousins. Depending on what you need them for, that may or may not be a no-go, but it’s always valuable to read user reviews first.

3. Manufacturer service can affect your overall costs

Upgrades are not the only expense that plays into your equipment’s TCO, as the level of service after purchasing also counts—including your equipment’s return policy, warranty and service agreement. Good service-level policies can save you a great deal if your machine malfunctions or your application needs updating. Some things to consider here are:

  • The return policy. New hardware usually includes a return policy that will let you send back an unwanted or unsatisfactory product within a certain length of time. However, the return policy for refurbished equipment may be limited or nonexistent, and returns could include hidden expenses that aren’t obvious upfront, such as shipping costs. There’s also the impact to your business: if the return process takes several weeks, your team’s productivity will bear the brunt. Always read up on the manufacturer’s return policy before buying.
  • The warranty. Warranties cover equipment malfunctions and defects not caused by the user. A good warranty spells out the terms or length of the warranty as well as the types of repairs that are covered and the claims process. However, it’s worth noting that a great deal of damage to devices—especially laptops—originates with users. For this reason, you may want to consider taking out a secondary insurance policy for your computing equipment.
  • Service agreements. Many applications are cloud-based and will update or patch products automatically, all of which is detailed in the program’s service agreement. Be sure to read through this document before committing. Automatic updates can save you a great deal in application upgrades and potentially even improve your data security.

All in all, you should choose equipment using your own blend of the factors above. Depending on your budget, needs and business model, you might need to prioritize one area above another. For example, a small startup may have less capital for expensive computing equipment than a larger, more established business.

IT solutions providers can also help. Many offer consulting services to assist with device purchasing, applications installations, and computing and IT budget forecasting. Of course, you’ll first need to understand your options when it comes to IT providers. For help with that, download our ebook How to Hire the Right IT Services Provider. In it, you’ll learn about essential provider differentiators to help you make knowledgeable IT solutions purchases.

Buying equipment may be no cakewalk, but that doesn’t mean you have to fumble around in the dark!

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