Re-evaluating your replacement strategy

When do you upgrade your technology? Regardless of the type of technology you’re using, from $10 hammers to multimillion dollar CRM systems, that’s an important question.

The potentially costly answer means that almost any all-encompassing bureaucratic rule such as, “We upgrade one-third of our PCs every year” is a dereliction of management responsibility.

The notion that old PCs become obsolete is a myth of convenience, motivated by a desire to acquire the latest shiny thing. The first PC I bought in the late 1980s (a North Star Horizon, Z80A CPM/N*Dos, machine with 64k of memory), still does what I bought it for.

The issue of upgrades boils down to a single question: does the person using the technology need more functionality than they have access to?

If they do, then upgrade what they’re using, provided you can afford it and that the benefit outweighs the cost. With respect to personal computers, most people, not all of us, don’t need more functionality or power; we have far more than we need on our desks already. Knowing how to use an application properly does far more to increase productivity than adding another Gigahertz of raw computing power.

It all reduces to this question: do they “need” more functionality? Upgrading one-third of your equipment each year, just because of a policy statement seems, to me at least, a waste of valuable resources.

Is the machine, regardless of when it was purchased, capable of handling the work we’re currently demanding of it in a productive, cost-effective manner? Of course, it takes time to ask that question of each of several hundred or several thousand PC users in an organization, which is why we originally created annual replacement strategies. The main objection to management policies of this type is that they quickly become accepted practice. They are rarely re-evaluated because they hide so well behind the cover of, “We’ve always done it that way”.

At some point -- for most users I think this happened several years ago -- the technology becomes capable of meeting 99 percent of the tasks we can throw at it. Upgrades are unnecessary and regular maintenance becomes the new problem to solve.

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