The expression “time is money” is relevant to building service contractors when it comes to purchasing computer hardware such as desktops, laptops and monitors.

Although it may be tough to shell out money for these items, the return on investment is realized on time saved with these tools that allow their workforce to touch base with more clients while staying in touch with the home office.

When to upgrade

Software needs tend to drive hardware purchases, says Jim Kelton, president of IT consultancy Altius Information Technologies Inc., Santa Ana, Calif. It is time to buy new hardware, Kelton says, when the current software cannot handle transition volumes or when the software is not flexible enough because the business has gone through some type of change.

“Software sometimes requires a heavy duty processor, requires more space on the hard drive or requires more memory,” says Kelton, who notes a shift in the habits of the business community, which has stopped attempting to upgrade and fix hardware, instead opting to buy new.

Other considerations when exploring the need for hardware, according to Kelton, are the ability to collaborate with clients and information security. Kelton recommends firms replace their equipment every three years since hardware, especially desktops and servers, tend to be on 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Let’s say you have 10 computers in your office, you may (identify) power users that need more powerful machines than other people,” Kelton says. “When new hardware comes in, you may decide to give that to the power users and then trickle down their equipment to someone else that doesn’t need as powerful of a machine.”

BSCs weigh in

David Herrera, president of CAM Services, Culver City, Calif., says his company gets the biggest bang for its buck when it can use hardware as the vehicle to get in front of perspective and current clients more of the time.

“We have a lot of our people now sitting behind their desk showing a PowerPoint presentation to someone who is sitting at the other end of the line,” says Herrera. “That is pretty powerful stuff. Everyone is so busy these days you just can’t get 15 minutes of face time.”

Dustin Bell, owner of Dusty B Janitorial, a small BSC in the Sacramento, Calif., area, sees the value in an investment in hardware when it aids in an effort to stay mobile.

“If I had it my way, I would go with just a laptop,” Bell says. “Most smaller contractors, when they start up, don’t have an office. They are wearing all of the hats so when they are out in field, that is where their office is at. They’re like road warriors.”

Bell, who runs his company out of his house, has a desktop in the home office and a laptop that he brings with him when he is in the field meeting with current or prospective clients or doing site inspections. Some of the key personnel in Bell’s company have cell phones and a scanner is used to record and digitally file receipts.

For smaller BSCs, Bell recommends purchasing an external hard drive that can be used to save files and documents from both a laptop and desktop. Another consideration is how exactly the hardware will be used.

When in the field, Bell uses his laptop to create reports and inspection documents. He opts to have the home desktop and his smart phone handle e-mail and not to connect to a wireless network when in the field.

“Another thing I like to use my laptop for is to create proposals right there in front of the customer,” says Bell, who can crunch the numbers for clients without spending valuable time traveling back to his home office.

From Herrera’s perspective, another consideration when purchasing new hardware is how it will be used in the future. Until a couple of years ago, Herrera’s company purchased desktops for both those who work in the field and administration staff.

“Over the last year or two we have made a real effort to look at laptops for the field people for the mobility and flexibility it gives them,” says Herrera. “Laptops now are pretty powerful and they can be used to make sales presentations. They can now do real-time estimating on them.”

Herrera outsources all of the company’s hardware needs to an IT consultant, who handles purchases and who, over the last four years, has built the company’s network infrastructure.

With a more mobile workforce comes more security concerns, more training and a heightened need to have technical infrastructure working at peek performance, Herrera says.

“You always do feel exposed,” Herrera says. “It’s kind of a learning curve experience for a company like ours. We are moving from having a lot a people who had minimal computer skills to now a fully mobile workforce. That entails a lot of training.”

Brendan O’Brien is a freelance writer based in Greenfield, Wis.