We’ve all been there. Whether for a new employee or your teenager’s Christmas present, you have shared in the painstaking experience of trying to purchase a new computer. It’s not that business leaders don’t have an idea of what they want/need – they do – but often don’t have clarity on the many factors to be considered. Moreover, small businesses often purchase a device at the desired price point with the desired look and find out it doesn’t do the job they need! While there is no “definitive” guide to your buying journey, here is a guide to the principle considerations in purchasing a computer for your business.
Employee work scope
Proper sizing – When executed correctly, a computer can be a business pro’s best friend. Different employees have different responsibilities and tasks to complete, and settings within which they operate. With literally thousands of options in the business computer market, there is no reason why each employee (or employee type) can’t get a tailor-fit device to maximize productivity. When filtering options via hardware specifications, it needs to be done based on requirements of the applications the employee will be using.
System requirements guides – Most hardware specifications a.k.a. specs revolve around processor, memory, graphics, and storage. For many, this is the greatest hurdle to overcome. Speed and horsepower need to be sized for the applications the computer will run. Most software applications, from operating systems like Windows and MacOS, to others like Autodesk AutoCAD, Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Office, and Intuit QuickBooks have publicly-listed system requirements lists.
These systems requirement lists (like this one for Windows 10 Pro) cover recommended processor, RAM, storage space, graphics card, and more. Please note these lists often cover the minimum specs needed, so you will want to make sure you have breathing room – not only for that application, but all the programs to be used on the computer. FYI, most business computers fall within the i5 or i7 processor range, 8 gigabytes memory, and integrated (non-dedicated) video graphics (this means finding the i3/4gb RAM or Xeon/16gb RAM machines will prove to be more challenging).
Where does the device live and travel?
Form factor – This consideration answers one of the biggest questions: desktop or laptop? If the employee is in the office (and at a desk) all the time, a desktop will provide all the performance needed at a lower price point. If they often work in the field or telecommute, a laptop with docking station might be considered. This approach avoids purchasing multiple devices and provides a seamless work experience for the user. For the road/field warrior, maybe get an Ultrabook (really light notebook) or a 2-in-1 tablet/notebook hybrid device. As a reminder, the more power and features one tries to pack into a smaller form factor, the larger the price tag likely will be.
Accessories – For any computer (but especially laptops), peripherals need to be accounted for as well. Ask questions like: “What kind of productivity software will this employee need? What type of monitor is needed and how many? Is a docking station or dedicated keyboard/mouse set needed?” etc. Tying all these together are the number and types of cables needed to match the ports of the computer to the accessories. Don’t forget that part!
Strategy-first purchasing – For an organization, it’s best not to think of computer buying in a vacuum – all computer and IT purchases should fit within a general strategy. Levels of standardization, operating system ecosystem, and lifecycle management all contribute to a company’s IT strategy. Some organizations want to get the best-priced device which meets spec standards; some want to get the same model every time. Some businesses run mixed environments, while others are “Windows shops” or “Mac shops”. Regarding device lifecycles, things get really interesting. Small businesses deploy replacement cycles ranging from strict 4-5 year replacement cycles to “I’ll wait until it breaks and see if I can search the dark parts of the internet for that replacement part from 8 years ago”. In general, there are costs and benefits to all these paths.
Customization vs standardization – Deploying a standardization approach makes IT management smoother, expedites procurement, and is better for budgeting (not to mention avoiding the politics of who got what and why). A more time-based, customized approach enables procurement officers to get the “best deal” based on the price and availability at the time. Whereas many of the hardware and form factor standards are more subjective, setting a clear vision for software ecosystem is imperative. Although Windows vs Mac can be its own rabbit hole, both paths have their benefit, with Windows still being the dominant force in business. For those considering mixed environments, such ecosystems are increasingly easier to manage as Cloud infrastructure and mobile device management technologies advance; however, they are still generally more expensive to manage. Overall, choosing the best O/S ecosystem for your business is often a blend of preference, application-friendliness, and budget.
Lifecycle planning – Finally, lifecycle management is key to IT strategy and will cost your organization wasted time and dollars if not properly enforced. In general, Progressive Technology recommends computers be purchased with 3-year warranties and a 5-year lifecycle in mind. Business machines are typically designed for such timelines – using materials with greater longevity and thusly, longer warranty coverage options. A disclaimer: these projections pertain to “traditional” models (as opposed to thin client or Desktop-as-a-Service) and assume proper “TLC” throughout the life of the computer. Following this approach achieves long-term cost savings, greater productivity, and minimal down-time.
Other specifications to consider
Commercial or consumer – With few exceptions, businesses should be deploying commercial-grade computers. While consumer devices can have attractive price tags, there’s a reason for that. Business computers are built for more use-and-abuse, have higher-quality materials (resulting in longer warranties and lifecycles), and are designed for central management at a software level.
HDD vs SSD – While there are a variety of differences between hard-disk drives (HDD) and solid-state drives (SSD), an easy summary might be: HDDs are less-expensive and more ubiquitous while SSDs are faster and more durable. When in doubt, Progressive Technology tends to recommend SSD, but justification of SSD over HDD is often determined on a case-by-case basis or by employee type.
Storage capacity – User device capacity often ranges from 128 GB to 1 TB+. You will notice most fall within the 256-512 GB range and selecting drive capacity should emerge from the company’s overall data storage procedures. With the abundance of central and Cloud storage platforms available to small business, Progressive Technology generally recommends foregoing the larger drive options. This enables a larger variety of device and price options, while re-enforcing what should be a secure, central data management strategy.
Brand – This is undoubtedly the most subjective filter to make. Some orgs couldn’t care less about the logo on the computer, while others are die-hard, X-brand loyalists. All major manufacturers have their “lane” in which they excel, and a variety of ranking approaches exist among industry experts (see example here of best laptop brands). From our experience, Progressive Technology prefers DELL and HP (followed by Lenovo) in the “Windows” world. Although user devices are largely a commodity these days, there are discernable differences among the brands in design, features, longevity, and customer service, so every business must choose their path and revise as time and experience necessitate.
Buy with confidence, make high-value purchases
Creating a computer purchasing and lifecycle strategy probably isn’t on top of your strategic objectives list; nevertheless, having a good idea of 1. the type of computers your business runs on and 2. the equipment your employees need to succeed, will ultimately contribute to such top-of-list objectives. Moreover, having a clear approach on computer purchasing will set better return-on-investment expectations, and thusly buyer’s remorse. Should you want further guidance on how to establish a strategic computer asset plan, we would be happy to help. Our team is experienced in all phases of device strategy and lifecycle management, and we would be happy to help you in your business’s journey.
Computer shopping for your business doesn’t have to be complicated or nerve-racking – with some thought and research, you can buy with confidence and make high-value purchases.