Using Lifecycle Management to Reduce IT Support Costs
Lifecycle management is the process of strategically planning the acquisition, management, and retirement (including proper secure disposal) of your IT assets. This includes PCs, laptops, tablets, phones, and even software like cloud platforms, HR systems, and financial systems. Lifecycle management allows you to:
Save money by timing your purchasing to leverage bulk discounts and market timing
Match your strategy and goals to financing options like leasing or financing
Leverage contract lengths to your advantage
Increase the flexibility you have of upgrading or changing platforms when required
This article will focus on the process of using the lens of Lifecycle Management to manage laptops more efficiently and effectively to your user base but also touch on the benefits of Lifecycle Management to other aspects of IT operations. Surprisingly, properly applying Lifecycle Management to your IT operations will also allow you to significantly increase user satisfaction and decrease costs of user support. Yes, you can indeed lower the cost of IT support by providing a better managed and efficiently run laptop fleet.
It’s about productivity
The key to effective laptop fleet management is simplicity and uniformity. By limiting the number of different computer models to a bare minimum, things like docks, cables, and power supplies will be compatible. They will be easier and less costly to stock and spare. A forgotten power supply can easily be substituted at a local office because they’re common. Low laptop model counts reduce the overhead of having to support multiple security patches, driver sets, operating system images, and accessories (like cables and dongles). But it also improves the reliability of the software, reduces time to test and push out patches, and reduces the time required to solve problems. If something does break, replacement computers are in stock, and the user does not have to re-learn keyboard layouts, port locations, or find different cables because their ports changed. Productivity is increased. Frustration decreased.
When you have less diversity in your laptop fleet, you can do things like placing a standard laptop power supply in a conference room. It goes further. Docks can usually be used with multiple models of the same vendor’s laptop. Those docks use similar cables, even monitor cables. All of this means LESS STUFF to manage, easier use of hoteling in an office, and less downtime in the office. Productivity is increased. Frustration decreased.
Many of you will look at Lenovo’s ThinkPad line (but also Dell’s Lattitude and HP’s Elitebook lines) and see a high-priced version of something you can get for less from other vendors. So, why are they so much more expensive? There are four key reasons:
Global support and repair capability, with five-year parts availability
Modularity, expansion, and repair capability
Durability and liquid protection
Most of these computers are built for global availability in identical configurations, making supporting a large, distributed workforce far easier, since the model you buy in Japan is the same you can buy in the US. They are designed for ruggedness, repair-ability, and expand-ability with things like SSDs, RAM, and WiFi cards in slots rather than soldered to the motherboard. While that means they’re not always the thinnest or most beautiful, they are designed to survive the hard use that typical business laptops see. The chassis are easy to open, parts are generally available for five years from sale, and driver support available for at least that long. Support contracts for damage and on-site repair are available. So, in this case, selecting the more expensive computer can wind up being cheaper over a five-year lifecycle when the additional support, accessory, repair, and expand-ability savings are added in. Productivity is increased. Frustration decreased.
Repair-ability and ruggedness matters
Of course, some vendors, like Apple, really don’t provide this capability. No, I’m not an Apple hater – but they don’t design hardware for repair-ability. Apple tends to change the power adapter for every single laptop model because, why not. And everything is soldered to the motherboard, removing any kind of expand-ability option. Finally, Apple laptops have absolutely NO protection from moisture of spills on the keyboard, and even have moisture labels on the motherboard that can void your warranty if the laptop has condensation due to a temperature shock (like, pulling it out of a hot car into a cold air conditioned room). Yeah, I’m looking at you Texas.
Consumer-grade Windows computers share many of the same problems. They’re manufactured for cost optimization, not long-term support-ability, reliability, or repair-ability. Computers marketed to businesses are different. For example, many of Lenovo’s enterprise laptops have membrane covers under their keyboards and weep holes to drain water. Like this. And this. Fragile laptop design, no matter how pretty, raises the costs of support over the longer term for that hardware. However, Apple’s laptops are high performing and beautiful to use and look at. Gaming laptops bring the best, highest performant hardware to market first. So, if those types of computers are what you need, you’ll have to pencil that out when doing your lifecycle strategy. Just know that you’re going to have higher repair costs, and higher replacement costs, which will far surpass the savings you may have gotten from paying less upfront.
Getting people back up and running fast is the job of IT
Another benefit of lifecycle management is the ability to easily stock spares, which can be used for both new hires and for replacements when the inevitable breakage occurs. When you have just a few different laptop models, inventory management is simpler and easier. This makes providing replacement machines and on-boarding new employees faster. Employees who get loaner machines that are different than the ones they usually use creates stress and reduces their productivity while they are waiting for their machine to be repaired. Keeping your fleet models down to just a few mostly eliminates this problem.
The average laptop model will remain in production for between 8-18 months, but usually not more than a year. Planning for new models and replacing sets of laptops in predictable batches allows smaller organizations to leverage more purchasing power for higher discounts and better service agreements by buying larger numbers of computers all at once. It also allows more creative finance options like leases and secured loans. And you don’t have to always put those computers immediately into production. You can use a third-party to inventory them and parse them out over 90 or 120 days or so. These third parties even provide services like putting your company asset tags on, loading company standard software, and shipping it direct to employees. This also provides you cushion for unexpected growth or IT delays in deployment and means you don’t have to provide secure local storage for loads of boxes and hardware in smaller offices. This is especially true now, as supply-chain disruptions are causing huge delays in delivering computers (up to four months).
Applying Lifecycle Management Across IT
Computers are not the only things that benefit from lifecycle management. Every platform, from a large ERP system to a cloud productivity platform like Office 365, has cycles of heavy development and then move into a legacy support model as newer technologies are developed, and the market moves on. Managing these platforms with a lifecycle model will allow you to optimize your use of these new cloud platforms and benefit the most from the additional productivity they provide. Planning for the larger up-front investment of data migration and user training to enable platform change that will inevitably come will enhance your organization’s staffing and financial planning.
Planning for the inevitable platform change up front also allows you to have the option to negotiate (prior to contract end dates) to potentially change vendors, add, delete, or consolidate services. The goal of this is agility and to accelerate business processes by adopting technology faster. Sometimes that includes significant savings, sometimes more cost, but the goal should always be improving productivity, agility, and automation, which allow the organization to be more productive and competitive.
If you’re interested in understanding more how lifecycle management can improve the value of your IT investments, give us a call at Forestay.