As a managed IT service provider, as well as a value-added reseller (VAR) and systems integrator, we frequently both consult on and provide products and services for our clients’ network computer, VoIP phone and software needs.  Luckily for us, we have a well-established trust relationship with most of our clients, and they usually follow our recommendations, even if they choose not to purchase through us.  We do our best to provide options, as well as pros and cons, comparison sheets, and “no surprises” pricing.  We want them to know that they’re getting honest and professional consultation, and they’re not being sold an item just because our profit margins are higher or there’s a promotion from our distributor.

There are occasions where we are put in the position of competing with the latest flyer or promo email from a major computer or software manufacturer, offering unbeatable prices on the latest technology.  To many business owners or managers with tight IT budgets, the sight of a PC or laptop priced below $500 seems too good to pass up.  Be warned, however, that many (if not all) of these advertised prices are hiding a few things.

Ready to work, or stuck at home?

The most common gotcha that many people overlook is that many of these advertised items are simply not meant for business use.  For example, purchasing a PC or laptop with a Windows Home operating system is not suitable for most business networks.  You can’t join those devices to Microsoft Active Directory domains, which in turn prevents you from managing and administering it as you should (e.g. Group Policy).  We have experienced a few small offices that purchased five or so PCs, only to find that they couldn’t use them on their network the way that they had intended.  While you can perform upgrades to these machines to bring them up to the Professional version, this costs money for the licensing, and time to do the upgrade.  Another thing to look out for is home versions of Microsoft Office.  These application suites may not include things you may need like Outlook or Access.  Purchasing these single applications separately can prove much more costly than buying the correct suite the first time. Even Microsoft Office 365 can be a pain to switch from Home versions to Business versions.

Tortoise in a hare’s costume

Also look out for devices with insufficient computing power.  Often PC makers will advertise an unbelievably low price on a PC, but upon a closer look at the stats, you’ll usually see a ridiculously low amount of RAM or a processor that is a very low speed, or one generation behind.  Manufacturers and outlet stores are notorious for offloading old stock on unsuspecting consumers.  In the case of laptops, it’s also typical to see models with subpar displays or terrible battery life.  These lower cost laptops and PCs may work for your business, but they almost always have a shorter usable lifespan, so how much money are you really saving in the long run?

It’s worth a phone call

If you run a business, the best course of action is to speak with your IT consultant or service provider before purchasing computer, phone or network equipment.  For that matter, any technology-related decisions are worth sharing with an industry professional.  Chances are, the small price you may pay in hourly rate to your IT guy (and depending on your support plan, consultation may be included!) will help you to avoid excessive “band-aid” costs down the line.  IT professionals, and particularly managed service providers, have extensive experience with many different types of industries, and equally as many different shapes and sizes of networks.  Even if they do not provide direct purchasing of software and hardware, they can guide their clients to making wise choices about their IT infrastructure.  Prudent planning and purchasing can result in a much better ROI and a less frequent purchasing cycle.

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