ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

A national monthly newsletter for agency principals dedicated to agency management topic

Computer Hardware Purchases

No matter what type of computer system you are thinking about purchasing, AMS, Applied, Delphi / Redshaw, or some other, there are two certainties:

From a hardware standpoint, whatever you buy will be obsolete within one year.

Every software vendor you talk to will want you to buy the hardware from them.

You have to understand, they are in the business to make money, and hardware is an area where they can make a lot of money easily. Many vendors resort to scare tactics, "If you don't buy the hardware from us, we can't support your system."

There is another certainty when it comes to computer systems:

Your computer system will crash.

Unless an agency happens to have a computer guru on staff, they are afraid of getting into a finger pointing situation. The hardware supplier blames the software vendor, and the software vendor says it's the hardware vendors fault. In the meantime, your computer system is down, your customer service reps can't remember how to do it manually, and since you've gone paperless, you can't answer simple questions posed by your clients.

In light of this potential disaster, the typical agency buys its computer hardware from the software vendor. Guess what? Your system is still going to crash, and your going to have the same problems, although they might not last as long.

A recent client that we assisted found that he could buy a user station locally for $1100 while his software vendor wanted to charge him $1600 plus shipping. Now $500 might not be much but multiply that by ten or twenty workstations and the numbers become very significant.

So what do you do? Let's separate computer hardware into four distinct categories: File Servers, Tape Backups, Workstation Terminals, and Printers. Each category of hardware is easily available at your local computer store as well as through your vendor, but there can be differences in motherboards, memory, and processing speeds that will affect your system's performance.

File Servers

Your file server is the brains behind your computer system. If it goes down, the entire network is down. Because all your software and client records reside in your file server, it must meet the exact specifications of your software vendor.

Purchase this piece of equipment from your software vendor. Your software should come fully loaded on the hard drive. If it doesn't work, you only have one company to blame. Any savings by purchasing it somewhere else will be eaten up by the cost of getting someone to load the software on the file server and making sure that it is functioning properly.

Tape Backups

Every agency should have some method to back up their data on a daily basis. Although this can be done with floppy disks, it is more efficient to have a tape backup. Now we know your system is going to crash, and if the crash is bad enough your software vendor is going to want you to overnight your most recent tape backup to them.

If you don't get your backup hardware from your software vendor, when you send your backup to them for analysis, they may not be able to read it, analyze it, or correct the corrupt data.

Workstation Terminals

If a workstation goes down, it will only impact the person that uses that terminal. If that person happens to be a customer service rep, you can swap out the terminal for the one sitting on the agency principal's desk (you know, the one being used as a paperweight).

Your software vendor may be reluctant to provide you with the terminal specifications, but you can get them if you push hard enough. Provide these specs to your local hardware supplier and he can provide you with terminals that will work and that will cost much less than the terminals you would buy from your software dealer. Try one, and after you have verified that it is functioning properly, you can purchase additional terminals as needed.

Printers

There is absolutely no reason to purchase laser printers from your software supplier. Buying an HP Laser Jet 4 is like buying a typewriter. Other than possibly having to reset the page length and some other superficial configuration settings your printer will work. Just make sure that it is a printer that is supported by the software. Savings by purchasing your printer locally can save you as much as $500 per printer.

Obviously, no matter what system you buy, or whether you buy your hardware from your software vendor or locally, it is a decision you must feel comfortable with. Just make sure that you weigh all the factors including potential down time and savings.