Some things can be used until they wear out. But technology isn’t something that wears its age well. More often than not, saving money by holding on to old technology will cost you big bucks down the road.
I have a client who has an office with five PCs. All are six or more years old and running Microsoft Windows XP with Office 97. They are also using a Client Management System (CMS) that is several years old. The owner has been reluctant to upgrade, citing expense.
He let his support contract on the CMS expire. He later found the cost of a single support call was quite high. Eventually the CMS provider stopped supporting his version of CMS entirely. Then he had a computer crash. He found new computers no longer offered Windows XP as an operating system, and his version of CMS won’t run on newer versions of Windows. He was lucky to find a used PC with XP.
Most recently one of his employee’s Outlook 97 reached its storage limit. We were able to find a workaround, but it was a close call. Current versions of Office won’t run on Windows XP. Now he’s faced with having to buy new PCs, new copies of Office and a new version of his CMS program. That’s going to cost him more than $10,000 the next time something breaks.
To avoid the huge cost of having to upgrade everything all at once, here are some basic steps business owners can take.
First, understand the lifespan of the software you rely on. Products like QuickBooks release new versions every year. Others, like Windows XP, can have a lifespan of several years. Most software vendors will only provide support for one or two previous versions of their products. If your version isn’t supported and you run into problems, you may be on your own.
Secondly, just because your software is “supported” doesn’t mean you won’t have to pay for assistance. Most software vendors will provide complimentary support for a short time (usually 30 to 90 days). After that you’ll need to purchase a support contract or pay a fee each time you need help. If you aren’t technical and don’t have access to someone who is, investing in a support contract can save you time and headaches. Also, if you have a support contract, you may get a discount on future upgrades.
When buying hardware, don’t settle for the least expensive computer. A good desktop PC should last five to seven years, and a good laptop three to five years. Low-cost PCs may be underpowered or use older hardware components that can greatly reduce their useful life.
You need to make sure your PC has the proper operating system. Microsoft offers several versions of Windows. Some versions are designed for home users and may not have all the features a business user needs. It’s also important to make sure that both the hardware and the operating system are compatible with any software you plan to install.
But wait — there’s a new trend on the horizon that promises to change the way we look at our computing needs. It’s called Software as a Service (SaaS). Rather than purchase a software package outright, you pay a monthly subscription fee. Some (or all) of the program resides on the Internet or “in the Cloud.” This means your software will be less dependent on your hardware configuration and can potentially eliminate the need to run a certain operating system.
Intuit’s QuickBooks Online and Microsoft’s Office 365 are great examples. Adobe will soon follow suit with its Creative Suite graphics program.
On the plus side, SaaS allows access to your software from pretty much any Web-enabled device — tablet, PC, Mac or even your smartphone. Your data is safely stored in the Cloud. On the down side, SaaS typically requires an Internet connection, although you may have some offline capabilities. If you total the annual subscription cost, it may be higher than purchasing the software license outright. But keep in mind that with SaaS you no longer have to worry about installing updates and compatibility with your computer.
The bottom line is that you need to look at the big picture when you’re buying or replacing hardware and software. Have a plan for what you’re going to be doing in a year or two. And don’t be shy about asking for help. Consulting with an IT professional could save you money in he long run.