A challenge many small business owners face is deciding what technology is needed to launch a growing business. Which computers are suitable? Desktop or Laptop? Does the model make a difference? What about guarantees? In this short article, I’ll address these office computer questions, give a general overview of the options, and offer some general advice.
First, it’s important to understand the need for standardization in computer hardware. For maintenance purposes, the management effort increases exponentially when dealing with significantly different computer models. So, whatever direction you’re headed in, stick with it. That doesn’t mean everyone in your office gets the exact same computer. This may not be appropriate (see below). However, if you choose desktops, choose a single desktop model that makes sense for everyone. When choosing a laptop, choose a mid-range model that will cover all needs. If someone in the organization needs specialized hardware, make one-time purchases an exception. This applies to monitors and accessories. Buy any 17″ or 19″ monitor – one or the other. Do not combine models.
Second, do you want laptops or desktops? Before we begin, there are a few things you should know: Laptops are more expensive than desktops. Laptops are also generally “less powerful” than desktops. I put that in quotes because current generation laptops have more than enough power to run all but the most compute intensive applications. However, when performance is paramount, particularly graphics performance (for CAD or graphics-intensive software development), a desktop may be a better choice. The obvious benefit of laptops is portability. For sellers, this freedom is almost always a must. This brings to the fore the main point in the laptop versus desktop debate: the user. If travel is required, provide this employee with a laptop. If the employee (or role) is tied to a desk, or if you want information to remain on that employee’s computer in the office (accounting, finance, HR), a desktop may be the right choice. Finally, laptops are very useful in environments where there is a lot of dynamic collaboration going on.
Next, what model of laptop or desktop? Giving everyone a giant 17-inch laptop good at showing movies and playing games might be a neat idea, but if that’s not the company’s core mission (or the recipient’s role), then it is it not appropriate, too expensive, and too delicate. Let’s face it, office equipment gets dropped, damaged, and generally treated like a rental car. While there is generally no need to buy a “rugged” laptop, “fleet machines” (commodity devices designed for business use) are built to take more abuse than the typical, multimedia-oriented consumer systems. They are also designed to be easier to repair and maintain, two key points in reducing overhead. Both Dell and HP have solid lines of business-class devices, as do many other companies. When you’re ready to buy, make sure to ask for business class equipment.
Fourth, when purchasing a long-term asset like a computer, one must consider support and service. For computers, this is governed by the warranty. As a rule of thumb, assume that the computer will serve you well for three years. With this in mind, the choice becomes clear: buy a three-year warranty. If you don’t have an in-house resource for computer maintenance, it may be wise to add an “on-site” clause. Such extended service generally costs more, but can reduce the impact of a computer failure by dispatching a technician within 24 hours rather than a 5-7 business day “send back to manufacturer” routine.
After all, the question of buying or renting almost always arises. First, a quick disclaimer: I’m not an accountant or a financial expert. Every entrepreneur has a different financial situation and needs to choose the right option for him or her. In general, you want to spend as little as possible on computer hardware because after 3 years of depreciation, you end up with a zero-value device. While the gear may be off the books, it also has no market value. Forget the idea of selling old equipment to buy new equipment – after three years, the industry has evolved. With that in mind, it may be wise to lease the equipment for new businesses — particularly organizations with more than a handful of employees. With a 3-year lease, the cheapest lease rate is advisable, since every buy-out option is unattractive, since the devices are almost worthless after three years. So skip the dollar buyout option and go for the cheapest monthly payment (often market value). When the lease is up, it’s time for an upgrade.
Equipping a new business with computers is expensive and must be done carefully. Here we’ve touched on some basics to help new business owners make the decisions. Verification, standardization on a single platform, and as few models as possible to reduce management overhead. Choose desktops or laptops based on the type of work being done and whether or not travel is planned. When choosing from the many laptop or desktop models, always opt for business-class equipment. When buying a computer for an office, make sure you get at least a three-year warranty, and consider the on-site option if you don’t have in-house IT resources. Finally, the decision to buy or lease depends heavily on the organization’s finances, but in general, leasing is a good option to avoid high cash outlays on equipment that will have no value (to the industry) after three years.