By Jim Hauer, Owner, HCS Tech

This is blog number 4 in a 10 part series on mistakes small businesses make when it comes to managing their IT. For an overview of 10 mistakes (and believe me there are more than 10) check out the opening blog here.


The guy at the store said this was a really fast computer so we bought it.

Big box stores are looking to move merchandise. That really fast computer may be great for gaming on-line, but do you really need all that power for email and composing documents? Right sizing equipment to your needs can be a tremendous cost savings not only at acquisition but also in total cost of ownership.


The car analogy

I hate the car analogy when it comes to selling computers. You know when the sales guy says, “This one here is the Cadillac, it has everything you’ll need, the one over here is a Chevy it will get you by nicely, but if you’re looking for the Corvette, this computer is really fast.”


The reason I don’t like the car analogy is that all cars basically do the same thing, they get you from one place to another. The main difference between cars is luxury and performance, but they are all designed to take you and a few passengers from one place to another.


The analogy I like to use is: do you need a motorcycle, a car, a small truck, a bus, or a semi? This analogy better focuses on the use of the computer. Here are some real life examples.


Motorcycle – A kiosk in the lobby that allows people to surf the web or check out a customer online portal.


Car – Knowledge workers that need access to email, simple word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation software. Their primary applications are hosted or online applications, such as CRM – customer resource management, supply chain management, inventory control, or ERM – enterprise management.


Small Truck – Knowledge workers that run applications on their machine and need extra processing power. Some examples are graphic arts, photo editing, CAD – computer aided drawing, and higher end financial modeling.


A Bus – These machines start to get into the server class where they are doing the hosting of applications or storing larger databases. These servers can also act as network devices controlling a host of functions on a small to medium size network.


Semi – Large servers that are performing processor intensive duties typically in a hosting center or large network environment.


By using an analogy of different types of vehicles, we begin to see that different machines have different functions within the organization. Typically the sales clerk at the big box store will have no idea what you need the computer for, what functions it is expected to perform, and what software it will be running.


Right Sizing


To avoid getting mired in a lot of detail there are really only 4 major things to consider (within each of these areas are a myriad of choices).


Processor – The processor is what does the “thinking” for your computer. How fast your computer can processes information and the amount of information it can process in that time are two key factors.


Hard Drive – How much information can you save on your computer? Think of a hard drive as a library full of books on shelves. How big does your library need to be? How fast does your computer need to get to those files?


Memory – In your library there are study tables that hold books you have pulled off the shelf and that you need ready access to. How much simultaneous information are you going to need at any given time?


Peripherals – What do you need to connect to your computer?


These questions are typically answered by the specifications of the software you need operate.


I recently visited an office. There was an individual who was using design software to calculate their client’s needs and order the right amount of product. He was getting frustrated with the performance and constantly bought more memory thinking that would solve the problem. His processor certainly seemed fast enough. The problem actually lied in a hard drive that was not designed to run at nearly the speed he needed. Something he never considered would be a factor.


By buying a computer that had the wrong combination of components the performance of the software suffered and the designer became very inefficient. Also, they accumulated unnecessary repair bills, down time, and overbought the wrong components (he really didn’t need all of that memory).


A good IT professional will be able to analyze the software you need to operate your business, look at the software manufacturer’s specifications, and choose components that will optimize the performance of the software. Going back to the vehicle analogy, if you need to haul dirt, talk to the dealer and buy a truck that has the right load capacity and suspension.


TCO – Total Cost of Ownership


In the example above, there was a lot of wasted effort and money simply because there was no expertise on buying the right computer in the first place. The purchase price and installation of a new computer only accounts for about half the cost of a computer. The other half of the cost is to maintain and operate a computer over it’s lifetime.


It is critical that you don’t waste the first half of your investment on too much computer, in other words, a computer that has expensive components that you really just don’t need for a particular job function. On the flip side, not having components that are necessary to take advantage of the software’s performance and overall value will cost you in efficiency, employee frustration, down time, and additional repairs and upgrades.


Getting the right sized computer from the beginning maximizes the return on your initial investment and provides the greatest return on the operation and upkeep of that computer over it’s lifetime.


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