Computers Older Than Your Kids? Upgrade With Care
Computers and other office machines don’t last forever. They wear out, break down or slide into obsolescence, and building service contractors must fix them. But BSCs need to find out whether it would make more sense to start from scratch with new machines, or perform smaller, incremental upgrades.
“Whether it is better to upgrade all at once or spread the upgrades over time often depends on the reason for the upgrade,” says Arlene Watkins, president of Heritage Computer in Lenexa, Kan. For instance, if the upgrade is necessary because a new workloading package or office suite requires a faster processor, all of the computers may need updating.
On the other hand, if a single machine is malfunctioning, replacing or repairing that unit should suffice.
In addition, Watkins recommends replacing rather than repairing a malfunctioning machine that’s more than three years old.
“Overall, the customer saves money, time and a lot of headaches,” she says. Upgrading an old computer can still result in hardware incompatibility or an inability to find appropriate driver updates.
“Compatibility is a consideration with any upgrade,” she says. “Memory needs to be the same type and you need to know how much memory is supported. Some older systems will not see the larger hard drives. While there are ways around some of these issues, a new system might be a better choice.”
In the case of a new computer, Watkins recommends BSCs seek out a model that’s been on the market for at least six months.
“Unless there is a compelling reason, I would shy away from the latest-and-greatest technology,” she says. “Often the latest and greatest has not been tested in real life situations and can cause more frustration than it is worth.”
In-house vs. outsourced
Some BSCs may be able to handle computer purchasing themselves, or with a member of their own staff, but others may need to seek outside help.
“A small business should do the upgrades in-house if they have someone on-staff who is an experienced computer hardware technician,” says Watkins.
For BSCs who want to handle their computer acquisitions and upgrades in-house, Watkins recommends checking the background of staff who have administrative rights to the network in order to prevent data theft or fraud.
However, in the long run, a consultant may be worth it, Watkins says.
A problem with do-it-yourself computer shopping is that many business owners tend to shop for company computers as though they were shopping for their homes, which can be detrimental in the long run.
“A client purchased equipment at a local computer store,” Watkins recalls. “The PC had the Windows XP Home operating system. In order to take advantage of their network, the operating system needed to be upgraded.” The money the client saved by buying a home system was eaten up by the cost of upgrading to a more powerful version of Windows.
A computer-support consultant can recommend appropriate machines, with warranties and room for future upgrades. Some companies also offer custom configurations, such as computer-aided design programs.
Also, for most technology projects, there is some follow-up required. While hard drive and memory installations shouldn’t need much follow-up care, other upgrades need more continuous evaluation.
“If a backup solution is involved, logs need to be evaluated to make sure the backup is functioning correctly,” Watkins says. “Firewall logs should always be monitored and security patches are also a concern.”
Also, even contractors who use consultants should train their staff on basic troubleshooting in order to minimize the amount of time, and money, needed from a support professional.
Finding an expert
Most BSCs, even those with in-house information technology staff, will occasionally need the services of an outside expert. But not all “experts” are equal, Watkins cautions.
“My advice is the business owner should establish a relationship with a trustworthy, reputable computer service company before a crisis happens,” she says. “Interview the company, including the technician. Ask how much they charge per hour, is there a travel fee, are their techs certified, how long has the company been in business? Check out references. Start with a small project. This will give you an indication of their customer service commitment.”
One more caveat? A low price is not a good indicator of value.
“Often, lower prices mean less experience,” she points out. “Expect to pay $95.00 (more in some areas) per hour for on-site technical work by a professional company. Prepaid service contracts can reduce the hourly rate, but establish a relationship with a company before signing the contract. Most companies are willing to work on an hourly basis. If not, move on.”
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