Those who know me, know that even at my grand old age I’ve been sporting some teenage mouth gear lately.  As such I’ve been having frequent visits to the Orthodontist.  What does this have to do with IT, you ask?  Everything.

On my first visit to my orthodontist practice, I needed some x-rays, which I didn’t know these machines nowadays hook straight up to a PC and into the practice management system.  Of course, I went for mine and was called back later after the aged Windows XP machine had been tinkered with by the new owners of the practice and caused some problems.  Although the previous owner of the practice, who just happened to be my orthodontist had few problems with his IT until the new owners started wanting access to his systems to carry out a dreaded integration project!…

On my most recent visit, it was all change.  I was even asked to sit at a different chair than usual.  Me being me, I asked why straight away.  I was told that the PC’s had been replaced and he’d had two go off in the space of a week, one of which was the one at his usual chair.  Upon closer inspection of the PC’s – they were labelled with Windows Vista and looked very much like refurbished machines.

This reminded me of some principles that I’ve always avoided in my career in IT, I’ve learned some costly lessons with both refurbished machines and factory reconditioned computers.

  1. Moore’s law states: “The number of transistors incorporated in a chip will approximately double every 24 months.” Moore was a co-founder at Intel and his prediction has been proven for decades.  Which in other-words, computers will become twice as fast and be half the cost within two years.  In essence rather than buying older refurbished technology, you could buy the previous generation of computer new and probably for the same price you’re buying a refurbished machine.
  2. Why would you do that?  Warranty.  Your refurbished or reconditioned PC supplier assures you that you have a twelve month warranty with your slightly dented and shabby looking PC, okay it could also look pristine but a lot come out of auctions and liquidations of firms who do not keep up their finance agreements.  They are ripped out of firms by disgruntled employees in businesses in trouble or bailiffs who don’t care too much for the technology and sent off to refurbishing houses.  The warranty is provided quite often by the company who refurbished the machine who doesn’t have the supply-chain that Dell or HP have (but we’ll get to that).
  3. What is refurbishing or reconditioning anyway?  I’ve worked in IT for many years, and even bought a few machines out of the factory stores, and I don’t know.  In general it simply means a fresh load of windows and the erasure of existing data on the hard drive.  Possibly some extra memory and a case and fan clean.   Simple as that.  The components such as the hard drive, power supply or the fans are rarely replaced and these are the things that experience the mechanical wear and tear.  If it works, it gets cleaned up and sold on.
  4. Warranty again? This point is so important I’m going to make it twice.  The warranty the refurbishing firm gives you is more than likely a 12 months back-to-base warranty.  This means your computer and all it’s data get’s sent back to a company that may or may not be in business any more.  Unlike a Dell or HP next business day on-site warranty, an engineer will not call to your business and fix the problem in-situ.  You’ll be without a machine for several days if not weeks.  Over the years I’ve learnt my lessons as an IT manager and for the extra few quid to extend your warranty to a NBD on-site version, is worth the off-set of the risk.  If you’re a business owner, why expend brain space on how you keep your employee working when their forever troublesome refurbished PC is back at the company who claimed to have refurbished it?
  5. By cheap, pay twice.  Okay, it’s an oldie but a goodie.  It’s sound reason, things are cheap for a reason.  Consumer PC’s also get me worried when I see them in businesses too.  They often just have a manufacturers return-t0-base warranty, they use cheaper components and they often do not have the diagnostic tools a business grade PC does.  So whether you’re buying refurbished machines or consumer grade ones from PC World, you need to consider is it fit for your business.  A PC is a PC right?  Nope!  Too many times I’ve seen businesses who’s owners have bought a PC from PC World with Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium or equivalent.  This cannot be joined to a business network and will never work properly!
  6. Licensing.  I’ve seen reconditioned PC’s before with the said Windows Vista stickers on, but been sent out with whatever you want.  This is pretty much illegal.  The original pre-installed license is the Microsoft OEM license, it only applies to that PC and is non transferable to any other box.  If the machine was built with XP, it is not entitled to Windows 7 unless you have bought the new license and can provide proof.  The easiest way to get peace of mind, is to buy new.  What’s the risk?  Well Microsoft are taking a dim view on businesses not being properly licensed and they’re also cutting out updates for non approved copies of their software, leaving a massive security and continuity risk to your business.
  7. Business Continuity.  I know you smaller business types may not be familiar with this term, but in the mid-market we use it a lot.  It’s all about keeping the business going in any eventuality and having plans of action should certain conditions occur.  The risks to business continuity of having a fleet of newer PC’s with full next business day warranties is lower than having refurbished PC’s with a one year return to base warranty on them.  If you’re large enough it’s sometimes even worth speaking to your insurer about this as they may reduce your premiums should you have a proper Business Continuity plan and IT strategy in place.
  8. Total cost of ownership.  You agree with what I’m saying, but simply can’t afford to buy new?  See point 1.  If you still don’t agree, then there are ways of financing IT, making it a ongoing cost rather than an up-front purchase and in general planning for IT rather making it a responsive purchase when something breaks.  If you have PC’s under warranty you know they’ll be good for 3-5 years, that purchase window is whenever you decide the warranty is enough.  My recommendation is to buy with 3, see how they’re doing then and extend for another 2 years.  That makes a good new PC a 5 year purchase, with none of your brain devoted to how you have to responsively go out and deal with things breaking.  On finance you can also just have the machines taken back and replaced with new in that period.  Believe me, this strategy is much lower over the same term with old refurbished machines because…
  9. Know what your getting.  Reconditioned PC’s are often advertised with a range of specification, components may have been swapped from the manufacturers defaults due to age, state of repair or simply to sell the machine with a spec you’ve agreed.  I’ve had non-standard drives put in them in the past that weren’t part of the manufacturers parts list.  This caused problems with pushing out corporate images of software to the machines and some degree of compatibility issues.  I’ve also heard tales of people being sold higher spec machines, to find that the processor is much older and slower than advertised.  A new purchase, you have the peace of mind that it’s shipped straight from the manufactures factory and the spec on the manufacturers website marries up to the model number you’ve purchased.
  10. Consistency is king.  Whether you’re buying a computer fleet of 5 or 500, I’ve always believed in keeping everything the same.  Back in my career this was to ensure that software images could be loaded on any PC, keeping IT support costs low.  However, there is another reason for the small business owner, and again it comes down to brain space.  If you have purchased all your PC’s at the same time and from the same manufacturer, not only will you get a better discount on your purchase, reducing unit cost.  You’ll also only need to remember one manufacturers warranty phone number, not have to chase down information and generally waste a day getting help should anything go wrong.  It just makes your life much easier!

If those ten reasons don’t get you thinking – then one last thought.  Whilst a relatively old, slow machine is taking 30 minutes or more to boot up Windows XP (still XP, yes) what are your staff doing?  Over the course of a day, week, month or year – their lost productivity quantified as their hourly rate could more than pay for a new PC and unfortunately I see this scenario time and time again.

There are loads of other issues around this topic, strategies that could be developed to get you back on the right track and sort out your buying policies to get you a decent IT strategy moving forward.  It doesn’t have to be tackled with a large up-front purchase, just planned, prioritised and agreed.  Here at Unleashed, that’s what we do, we are IT strategists.  We’re also running some new free webinars to help train small business owners on topics such as buying strategies, cloud, backup and much more.  So if you’re interested, please don’t be shy and contact us here and our free events page is here – feel free to sign up!