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Friday, February 11, 2011

Don’t Overlook Hardware Lifecycle Management - A Potentially Untapped Business Resource

article, hardware
In every company, the people at the top—and for that matter, the people at the top of every division and grou —keep a close eye on every penny that comes in and goes out. These people spend time immersed in charts, graphs, figures, and percentages. They monitor the amount of energy they use, knowing that reduced energy expenditures result in money savings. In some companies, such as those with assembly lines, they clock every movement of each worker to find ways to shave precious seconds off of the time it takes to make a widget. They follow the news closely, looking for trends that will give them an edge in their respective business, because every little bit helps fuel their success.


The same attention to detail and near-obsession with numbers and trends can and should be applied to hardware lifecycle management. And yet, many companies don’t give this area as much attention as they should, despite tha fact that depending on how well (or how poorly) hardware lifecycles are managed has a direct impact on companies’ bottom line and ability to do their work

According to Brandon Kasper, marketing specialist with World Data Products (www.wdpi.com), “In the last few years, more than ever, managers have been pushed to turn small budgets into large gains. Every little bit helps.” WDPI is a company that supplies hardware assets and offers services including education, maintenance, and equipment disposal and trade-ins.

What Is Hardware Lifecycle Management?
Every company has hardware for its employees, from the computers at their desks to the smartphones in their pockets to the equipment storing and serving company data. All of these assets must be monitored and maintained, of course, and the IT department generally handles those tasks. However, the above simply describes “hardware management” rather than hardware lifecycle management, and that one word makes a huge difference.


The difference is that when you plan for the lifecycle of hardware, you’re looking at the costs incurred for acquisition, maintenance, and disposal, as well as determining when to begin replacing or phasing hardware in or out. If that sounds like an intensive task, it is; but it’s crucial to your business.

Planning

Kasper notes several questions that companies should ask when making a hardware lifecycle plan. “A few of the questions companies should be asking themselves are: What is my budget? How long will it take to set up [the hardware]? How long do we need to keep this hardware in commission? Do we have all of these resources on-site? How much of our data center operations will we need to outsource? Is it cost effective to outsource?”

There are plenty of resources available, from partners such as WDPI, as well as industry groups such as the IAITAM (International Association Of Information Technology Asset Managers; www.iaitam.org). The IAITAM offers education on asset management as well as globally recognized certifications including CHAMP (Certified Hardware Asset Management Professional), CSAM (Certified Software Asset Manager), and CITAM (Certified IT Asset Manager).


Barb Rembiesa, IAITAM’s president, suggests beginning your plan by developing your own standards. “You want to come up with standards for your environment so everything can function together,” she says. She notes that, especially in slightly larger companies, you may need to create sets of standards that are customized for each of your departments, as they’ll often have very different needs. “If you have an R&D team, they’re going to have different needs than a graphic designer, than a janitor. You have to look at your environment and come up with what’s going to bring the best value back to your organization as far as establishing your standards.”

Rembiesa advocates having a certified asset manager, who is trained in best practices and understands the financial, productivity-related, and risk factors involved, as ideal.

It’s also important to keep in mind what “cost” really means in terms of hardware lifecycle management. There are the obvious costs associated with buying or leasing new equipment, but you also have to consider the costs associated with having the IT department manage, maintain, and in some cases upgrade the hardware; the potential lost productivity of workers dealing with faulty or broken equipment; and the risk involved with disposing of hardware at the end of its lifecycle.

There are plenty of ways to approach acquisitions. For example, you can lease hardware instead of buying it outright. Another option, according to Kasper: “Refurbished hardware and upgrades are a great way to improve your system efficiencies, but [you] save money by not purchasing a completely new and expensive system.”

Furthermore, by planning ahead of time, you can potentially make volume purchases, which Rembiesa points out can save a lot of money up front.

Maintaining
Planning for hardware is made more complex by the fact that so many management components of a company are interconnected. For example, although software management is technically separate from hardware management, you can’t plan for one without taking the other into consideration; if you need to be able to run certain software applications, you need to have hardware that supports it.

Maintaining hardware assets presents a challenge as there’s a delicate balancing act between how long to keep aging hardware and how much time, expense, and lost productivity older hardware may cost the company. Of course, a company wants to save money by using its existing laptops instead of running out and buying a fleet of the newest and fastest notebooks; however, at some point those old models will start to wear down.

This issue is really no different than an average person deciding when to buy a new car. At some point, that aging model outlives its warranty. After it expires, the owner is on the hook for all further repairs, which multiply in frequency and expense the older the car gets. Eventually, she may be faced with the difficult decision to either drop a couple thousand dollars on putting a new engine into a car that she owns or take that money and make a down payment on a new vehicle, which will require a loan and monthly payments. If she ditches the older car too early, she’s effectively wasting money because it still has value; on the other hand, if she waits too long to get rid of it, she’s losing money on repairs and time spent waiting for it to be fixed.

When looking at company assets, the decision about when to refresh certain equipment is multiplied. When is the right time to replace 200 notebooks or phase out a rack of aging servers? For a business, waiting too long can be disastrous, especially if an equipment failure results in lost data or lengthy downtime for key employees or the entire company.

Disposal
Disposing of hardware is an important part of the hardware lifecycle process and can be one of the most overlooked. Not only is disposal far more involved than simply tossing old equipment in the dumpster; there are serious financial and security risks at stake, as well.

Rembiesa notes, “Some risk comes into play at the disposal end. There are EPA requirements. There are federal guidelines that you need to adhere to when disposing of hardware.” Hardware typically contains toxins and pollutants; improper disposal of such materials can lead to heavy fines, which can potentially devastate a small company.

From a security standpoint, a lot of hardware contains sensitive data that, if not properly destroyed, could fall into nefarious hands. It’s sometimes easy to forget just how risky it is to throw away storage devices without properly destroying the data contained on them. Consider that if an employee lost a notebook with sensitive company data on it, a minor (or major) panic would ensue, but that same notebook may be decommissioned and tossed without being wiped of data. The two situations present essentially the same risks, yet the latter is often overlooked.

There are certain best practices involved in data removal, including recycling and reclamation programs as well as Department of Defense-level data wiping and the physical destruction of storage devices.

Common Mistakes To Avoid
Although every company requires a unique approach to hardware lifecycle management, there are some common mistakes to avoid.

According to Rembiesa, the biggest mistake she sees has to do with the terms and conditions in contracts. “A lot of companies will buy hardware and have no idea what they’re eligible for as far as maintenance and support—and they’re paying for it,” she says. In other words, companies are paying for services such as maintenance and support that they never use, even though they may find instances where such services are needed.

Furthermore, many companies will unwittingly violate a contract. For example, if a company decides to upgrade the memory in a fleet of leased desktops, they could violate the lease agreement and face financial penalties upon conclusion of the lease agreement


No company can exist without hardware, and it’s a reality of doing business that hardware lifecycle management is an issue that affects expenditures, productivity, and risk. By getting educated about hardware lifecycle management and creating and implementing a plan, companies can save themselves a lot of time and money. ▲

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