IT professionals should make time to examine their enterprise PC lifecycle management policy and evaluate all available...
policy options to determine how to balance the need to refresh PCs and laptops against the costs involved.
As time goes by, hardware refresh for PCs becomes increasingly inevitable. According to numerous sources, the average duration of the refresh cycle in most businesses runs three to four years, with smaller businesses often pushing that window out by another year or two.
But it's an open question as to whether IT should handle hardware refreshes directly. Given that the idea is to replace the computing devices that individual workers use, so long as they can keep working with minimal downtime, there's no real reason that in-house IT hours need to be dedicated to such a task.
An organization can enable users to set up and get to work on a new machine before returning the old one, which means it can serve as a fallback should issues arise with their new units. Additionally, a PC lifecycle policy should support the migration from old systems to new ones, so workers should experience little or no downtime when transitioning.
There are multiple routes organizations can take to get to a seamless PC lifecycle management policy, so management and IT staff should consider all of these options to find the best fit.
Understanding the role of outsourcing for desktop lifecycle management
Once an organization has selected the target units for refresh deployment, it can work with an OEM or reseller to get replacement machines partially configured before delivering them to end users. This means that a reseller or service provider can easily assume the burden of making sure the PCs get delivered to their intended recipients and work with them remotely or in person to get everything migrated from old systems to new before shipping off the old systems for reuse, resale or safe disposal. Maintaining a chain of evidence to show proper disposal for retired machines and their storage media is an important element in many compliance and governance regimes.
A wide range of service providers offer hardware refresh services, delivery, support and tracking. These include the following:
- OEM corporate sales and service organizations. All of the major PC vendors fall under this umbrella and provide either direct or partner-led capabilities for hardware refresh, including Lenovo, HP, Dell, Apple, Asus and others.
- Business service and support companies. These work with organizations to create and implement a hardware refresh strategy from end to end. This can focus strictly on desktop and personal computing devices, or it can include an organization's entire equipment base with plans for data center consolidation or migration from on premises into the cloud on the IT side of the equation. This includes vendors such as Enterprise Integration, ProTech Services, Insight and others.
- Certain MSPs. This category includes options for organizations to include PC refresh planning and delivery among their offerings. These include the major consulting firms -- Accenture, Deloitte and so forth -- as well as most MSPs, such as Atos, Capgemini, IBM, Infosys and others.
Even within the desktop administrator community, there is no single best practice that defines a desktop lifecycle management plan. Instead, such policies run a gamut of possibilities but can be boiled down to three main options.
3 PC lifecycle management service options
Working with a service provider like those described in the previous section, organizations can work to review and recast their PC lifecycle management strategy. To that end, they should decide how frequently they refresh user devices, what kinds of devices and peripherals the end users in various roles need, what kinds of services the provider should make available to end users while PCs are in use and what to do with PCs when they get refreshed.
How PCs exit an organization is key to meeting data privacy and protection requirements for devices -- especially storage media -- that may be passing outside their control. If resale or donation is an option, it's essential to make sure that end-of-service devices leave the organization with none of their data still present. The idea is to provide end-to-end PC lifecycle management so purchases align with organizational needs and budgets, devices remain usable while in service within the organization, and disposal and retirement align with compliance and governance policy and requirements, including tracking and documentation. This includes environmental, social and governance concerns related to recycling, environmental impact and more.
Organizations should plan to choose among a variety of services that fall at various steps along the lifecycle path for PCs, and these services fall into three major categories:
- Direct device selection and specification. This includes getting devices with a specific CPU, RAM, storage, display and so forth to comply with current and planned usage scenarios. Some degree of "buying up" is a good idea because brand-new PCs routinely lose 10% to 15% of their relative capabilities annually. This route requires some hands-on work from IT and management when it comes to deployment and disposal, but this way, organizations can keep all the labor in-house.
- Device-as-a-service offerings. While these services may come with several different names -- such as PC as a service -- they all involve ongoing hardware refresh from the service provider as part of the monthly subscription costs for access to devices and peripherals. The organization trades higher monthly lease payments or use fees against a perpetual refresh model that leaves updates to the provider. It enables organizations to convert Capex to Opex, which is a key business initiative for some organizations.
- Outsourced PC support only. These offerings mean that the organization picks up the cost for device purchase and maintenance, but the providers cover an ongoing service for those devices for a monthly fee. This still leaves the refresh open to negotiation on cycle-by-cycle basis. Organizations that opt for this approach trade in-house help desk costs for monthly service fees from a provider.
Whatever services an organization chooses to outsource, it still needs to maintain responsibility for the PC lifecycle. It remains on the hook for choosing and selecting devices, handling refresh activity, maintaining devices while in use, and managing end of life or end of service within policy guidelines.
A key consideration in choosing a service offering comes when deciding how many of its own human resources the organization wants to dedicate to managing the PC lifecycle. Those that choose more in-house labor can reduce service costs, but they should consider how resource-constrained their IT department is overall. Prevailing conventional wisdom is that IT resources are best expended innovating and delivering more or better services to users, clients and customers, rather than handling routine day-to-day tasks, such as configuring and setting up PCs, migrating data from old PCs to new, handling PC support requests and dealing with end of life when PCs retire.
How to approach desktop lifecycle warranties and support
As organizations decide a plan of attack, it's important to note that, for the most part, hardware failures typically occur in the first year or two of a product's lifetime. This makes it more important to have support in the early years of a product's life than later. It may sound backwards, but bugs usually work themselves out in the first couple of years. So, some PCs become more reliable over time.
There are several ways to approach the support portion of the lifecycle. This is the phase of the longest duration for hardware of any kind, so it's particularly important.
Purchase warranties for an exact length of time
IT pros can purchase warranties for the specific duration needed for their lifecycle. For example, for a three-year lifecycle policy, IT would purchase a three-year warranty and then decommission the machines and purchase new ones thereafter. As a bonus, IT could then sell old machines to a recycler and generate revenue -- after proper storage cleanup, of course.
This option guarantees support for all machines and eliminates more costly out-of-warranty support contracts. It can be expensive in the long run, however, because it requires IT to purchase new hardware every time the lifecycle ends.
Purchase support after the warranty expires and keep the PCs
For example, IT can get a three-year warranty and then tack on two years of support for a five-year lifecycle. Support is more expensive, but the lifecycle is extended.
No paid support after a warranty expires
In this scenario, IT keeps PCs and uses them until they give out. Dropping support for three years of warranty saves money, but that comes with some risk. If a machine goes down without support, IT must find time to fix it on its own.
Any delays in the repair process can lead to lost productivity for users. Even if IT gets a user another machine -- temporary or a full-on replacement -- it takes time to set it up and load all the files. Further, users may not be familiar with the replacement device's interface, and any customizations that are missing could make it even more difficult to work.
IT can mitigate such problems by maintaining a stock of emergency spare devices. These are ready for use with some speedy way to restore files and get the user up and running quickly. IT can then repair the broken device and turn it into another emergency spare.
IT may be able to find other creative ways to repurpose machines, such as turning them into thin clients to extend their lives.
IT pros can make the length of the lifecycle as long as they want, and they can mix and match the support methods for a wide variety of options.
When designing a PC lifecycle management policy, IT pros should use the warranty and post-warranty support they require to build a cost-effective policy. Remember that these are just PCs and laptops -- not servers -- so IT can get away with relying on self-support. On the other hand, outsourcing represents a great way to trade cash for scarce resources. That's part of the reason why so many companies end up taking the latter route.