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Businesses can get longer out of their PCs

Businesses have a difficult decision to make in terms of when to replace their ageing PCs. Should firms be looking to upgrade rather than purchase new systems?

Deciding when to replace IT hardware can be a tricky decision for businesses, particularly those operating with constrained budgets. Persist too long with old, outmoded PCs and servers and forms risk being left behind by their rivals. But replace hardware too soon, before they have obtained sufficient return on investment, and companies gain lower reduced value. Not only this, but funds that could be allocated elsewhere end up being used unnecessarily.

For the largest corporations, with millions in the bank, the timing of hardware upgrades is likely to be a less critical concern. But for small companies in particular, it is these types of decisions that can make all the difference. Very often there is a fine line between business success and failure, meaning that each and every resource must be maximised in order to keep the company in profit. IT can certainly play a key role in generating business revenues, but equally, inadequate technology tools can prove to be a drain – both in terms of time and financially.

A recent study from Crucial.com indicated that the average UK computer is replaced after an average of only 4.5 years of use. And according to the company, this is quite simply too soon for maximum value to be realised. The study indicated that PC owners tend to simply purchase a new computer once their PC starts to slow down, despite the availability of techniques and solutions to re-optimise performance. The idea of repairing and rebooting their systems simply doesn't occur to some people.

Roddy McLean, marketing director at Crucial.com, noted that upgrading computers is definitely easier on the purse strings than buying brand new ones. He suggested that a memory upgrade gives PCs a well-deserved performance boost. However, many people are unaware how to carry this out, or even what an upgrade means. Some 48 per cent of respondents to the survey said that did not understand RAM, for instance, with women (67 per cent) particularly baffled by memory-related technology jargon.

"It's hard to quantify how much a memory upgrade will benefit a sluggish machine as every computer is different," Mr McLean said. However, the study indicated that 25 per cent of Brits get frustrated by slow PCs, meaning this is surely worth a try. Particularly for time-poor small businesses, where the owner is likely to have a multitude of different responsibilities, a slow computer can cause problems in all different areas of the company. If a key member of the firm is spending their time battling with a struggling machine, they are not focusing on sales, marketing, product development and finance, and this can lead to loss of opportunity.

In large businesses, any inefficiency which creeps into the organisation through under-performing IT can be equally problematic. In an organisation with 200 employees, each with their own computer, IT problems can quickly mount up. Should a quarter of all models need upgrading or replacing, this means the performance of 50 staff members is likely to be compromised. A large number of workers operating five per cent, even two per cent, under capacity can have noticeable impacts on the bottom line.

According to Mr McLean, many people do not realise that there are some easy and extremely cost-effective remedies for under-performing computers. "A memory upgrade is breathtakingly simple to install, even for complete novices," he stated. What businesspeople should not do is simply accept the constraints of their existing system, at least not until the IT department has had a closer look. Advances in enterprise IT mean that employees can expect a very high level of performance from their PC, and any flaws are worth investigating.

In terms of replacing PCs, businesses should have a long-term plan in place for IT investment. This can never be set in stone, as anything can happen, but budget holders should have some idea in advance about when and where PCs will need replacing.

Global sales figures this year suggest that many companies are holding back on investment, with shipment growth down to 9.3 per cent from 10.5 per cent last year. Raphael Vasquez, research analyst at Gartner, noted that businesses sharply reduced replacements and extended PC lifetimes in response to the recession, and to a degree, this pattern is still being seen. As budgets continue to recover over the next few years, shipment levels are likely to rise, but some IT leaders may think a little longer before revamping their computing hardware. In many cases, the difficult economic case may cause them to delay.