Laptops

Five items all IT consultancies must stock

IT consultancies can reduce clients' downtime by having some inventory on hand. Basic desktop computers and routers are just two of the items your consultancy should stock.

Some IT consultants drive profits via a storefront; others wouldn't touch retail using their fiercest competitor's budget. I don't think IT consultants targeting commercial clients have much business managing a store. When's the last time someone walked in off the street and asked to buy a dual-CPU 2U rack-mount server? It's usually a residential user hoping to score a $399 cut-rate laptop capable of editing video while drafting three-dimensional CAD drawings.

I'm not suggesting that your consultancy keep a lot of inventory in stock, but there are five items I think your office should keep on hand at all times.

1: Basic desktop computers

Clients, especially business clients, often need desktops in a hurry, and many refuse to purchase spares or depot machines until it's too late. We've seen it too many times in my office, so now we keep several desktop computers in inventory. We sell several each week simply because we have them on hand.

IT consultants often decide to try to repair a client's failed four- or five-year old system because the client needs it back up and running fast. The computer in question is desperately needed to print checks, take orders, process lab results, check-out customers or patients, operate a machine, or process critical email, etc. (we see these scenarios each week). If you have a replacement system ready to go, it can significantly reduce client downtime.

The systems you stock don't need to be fancy; in fact, a desktop chassis with an Intel Core 2 Duo, 2 GB RAM, Windows 7 Professional (32-bit), and a 250 GB hard drive meets a tremendous variety of client needs.

2: Basic laptops

Laptops fail more frequently than desktops due to the wear and tear mobility inflicts. Also, clients usually can't seem to wait when they want a laptop; for instance, perhaps an executive drops a laptop and needs a replacement fast or an IT staff member is taking an unexpected trip.

Stocking a laptop that meets everyone's needs is a tough task, though. Almost everyone wants a unit that is as light as a netbook, as stylish as Apple's MacBook Air, and as fast and capable as an Alienware M17x. Yeah, that's not gonna happen.

But here's what you can do: You can keep a couple of Dell Latitude E5410s, HP ProBook 4520s, or Lenovo ThinkPad Edges on the shelf.

3: Hard disks

Hard disks are like oxygen in this business -- you have to have them in all kinds, shapes, and sizes. IT consultancies should stock internal desktop and notebook drives, external disks up to 2 TB, and potentially even SCSI disks if your office supports a large number of servers with those drives. We often bill hard disk sales faster than we can reorder them, so stock up.

4: Routers

Networks and underlying routers provide the backbone infrastructure that power businesses. Thunderstorms, electrical surges, corruptible firmware, and other threats often prove fatal to critical network communications, including email, Internet, credit card authorization, cloud-based applications, remote sites, and other operations.

Your IT consultancy should not have to tell a client their business operations will be down 48 to 72 hours while you're waiting for a replacement router. Keep replacements on hand.

You should stock SonicWALL TZ 100s and SonicWALL TZ 200s because they're inexpensive, provide extensive QoS and VPN capabilities, and even offer optional gateway security subscription services. Plus, they're worth their weight in gold by serving as a temporary unit until a larger, more powerful or specialized replacement can arrive.

5: Microsoft Office

How many times has a client asked you this question? "Microsoft Office isn't included with a new computer?" Clients -- regardless of their technical sophistication or intelligence -- are often surprised that the popular office productivity suite doesn't automatically ship with Windows. In our experience, what's even worse is that most clients don't understand they cannot transfer Office licenses purchased with an old PC to a new computer. New licenses are required.

Microsoft's made suite selection easier with 2010. Microsoft Office Home and Business 2010 includes Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint, which meets most users' needs.

What's on your inventory list?

Symantec Endpoint Protection licenses, network adapters, wireless access points, battery backups, surge protectors, 14' Ethernet patch cords, USB cables, and potentially even a laser jet printer are among other items my consultancy regularly stocks. What items do you stock? Join the discussion.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

24 comments
eldergabriel
eldergabriel

...for desktop computers. Relatively inexpensive, and can often resurrect a dead system in short order, where applicable. Reliable, high wattage units are often just an inexpensive as the cheap, lower-wattage ones. Maybe some molexsata adapters, as well.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... but my consultancy doesn't do hardware, or resell anything. Not all "IT Consultants" do that kind of work.

Marc Thibault
Marc Thibault

When did IT Support Technicians become IT Consultants? Being ready to fix or replace a PC doesn't sound like consulting to me. Is the system side suffering the same kind of title inflation that has turned junior programmers into software engineers? When one of my clients calls for an IT Consultant, they want someone who can help them make informed management decisions about using IT to support their business processes, not someone to tune a file server.

Justin James
Justin James

One thing to keep in mind, is that the size of the clients makes a BIG difference. Once the customer is big enough that they like to have a standard machine/system image, for example, you aren't going to be giving them a box off the shelf; instead, you'll need to stock a few of their standard systems. Ditto for the parts you keep on hand. In some cases, have next day 9 x 5 SLAs for hardware or depot contracts where you can get parts replaces next day 9 x 5 is a lot more economical for both you and the customer than stocking parts. For example, we bought a UPS, and the depot parts contract was actually about the same price as a replacement battery. This means that we're effectively paying our first replacement battery for free, and getting free parts replacement for the contract period. That's not a bad deal! If we were working with a consultancy that had us opt to just rely on them keeping parts in stock, they'd get burned on the parts (UPS parts aren't cheap) and we'd get burned in the long run too. J.Ja

Erik Eckel
Erik Eckel

Apple products aren't always readily available, but I agree the local Apple store can be a great partner. However, 90% of our client base use Windows systems.

mthnbr3
mthnbr3

Our company does keep several laptops on hand for use on engagements. However, I don't know of a single time they have been used. In this day and age of HIPAA, data theft, and privacy issues, any company with even an outdated security protocol is not going to let a consultant connect a laptop, hard drive or even thumb drive to the company network. Even signing the appropriate end user and client responsibility agreements doesn't shield a company from the potential loss of dollars and negative publicity caused by a consultant losing a laptop with client lists, social security numbers or other information stored on it. At most companies I have consulted at, even the use of personal or other owned wireless routers or ethernet cables is forbidden-- to avoid any issues of theft, questions of ownership, and the need to track what got brought onto the site.

SteelTrepid
SteelTrepid

Horrible list as always. I was hoping for a few components that I happen to not have on hand and am leaving disappointed like always. Maybe my market is too small or my clients aren't big enough but keeping Office on hand can be a pain. Regular customers don't want to pay for it and business customers generally get a volume license elsewhere. I like keeping it on hand but I don't think all shops/consultants should keep it on hand. Maybe I need to start writing for you guys?

Old-Timer
Old-Timer

FR -- always keep Keyboards, Mice and Power supplies.

SerrJ215
SerrJ215

Keeping that much hardware on hand is not cost effective, the idea that you have good hardware that is just taking up space and that no one is using is ridiculous. Also the fact is that but having the hardware sitting there you are just shortening the time that the manufactures warranty is available. Keeping a few HDs around (new), and a spare router is one thing but between rapid shipping and retail outlets you don???t have to go that far for a fresh PC or a laptop with a full warranty. As for software first MS office starter is being installed on most new computers now. Which has stripped down versions of word and excel, second since office is its own product and the machine is dead or need to be replaced the license can be transferred as long as the original machine has the software uninstalled or the drive erased. You are thinking about OEM licenses, not standard retail ones. Lets not forget that for the most part OEM is something that most averages users have no idea exists so if they buy office themeselves they buy it off the rack. Let???s not forget that many companies do go for a volume license on their office products, where all of this is moot. ???You should stock SonicWALL TZ 100s and SonicWALL TZ 200s because they???re inexpensive, provide extensive QoS and VPN capabilities, and even offer optional gateway security subscription services. Plus, they???re worth their weight in gold by serving as a temporary unit until a larger, more powerful or specialized replacement can arrive.??? $465 is inexpensive to you? for a temporary router? You suggest keeping a few of these in stock? Cisco makes solid SMB routers that cost about half of that and there just as available as the computer and laptops. As for me, I keep a few switches, one clean router in the box, a box of cat5e to make my own patch cables; some usb cables, adapter kits, and a spare universal power supply for a notebook computer. As for software I have iso files and a DVD burner of pretty much every OS since Win 98 (yes some manufacturing equipment still runs 98) and of course few fresh HDs.

mjh2901
mjh2901

Where we consult there are apple stores everywhere, what we stock are windows 7 32bit OEM license/disks. If a must have machine dies usually one can drive off and be back with a Mac Mini or 6 in under an hour. Pull a windows 7 license and get it going. The reason for this is the hardware out of the box is more reliable than any other manufacturer we have dealt with. At $600 bucks they are realatively cheap. And its cheaper to hit an apple store when needed than keep 3 or four desktops on a shelf. Hard disks keep an ata, an sata and one laptop sata ready to go with those routers. The other thing I cary is the bag o cables and adapters. Its amazing how many problems are solved with a 100" ethernet cable, dvi, vga and a dvi to vga adapter. I would shy away from any form of extra laptop. they loose value way to fast to stock.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

I can set you up ;) Or at least, I can consult, see if we can cook up some good sh*t :D "IT Consultancy" seems to be the problem - is it a Mercenary Company-style IT Department? Or is it any consultancy in the massive IT field. Maybe we need some subsets?

Justin James
Justin James

The impression I've gotten from his articles, is that Erik's company does both, really. One of those "IT departments for hire" targeted at smaller businesses that can't justify their own in-house IT department, but have enough tech that someone's cousin in college isn't enough to keep it up and running. Reading his articles (as well as Jack Wallen's, who works for him), you really get the impression that their customers do things like try setting up their network themselves, with a bunch of low-end PCs running Windows Home editions in a workgroup, and when things fall apart, they look into getting a company like Erik's to sort out the mess they've made for themselves. I've worked for a couple of companies who function like this, it's really frustrating. They always want to do things like use a $400 PC as their "server" (which means, "buy a big hard hard and share it out") and get stunned when something goes wrong, like a dead hard drive taking out the entire company because they don't backup or have RAID... so it's a tough situation for a company like Erik's to come in and try to clean up the client's bad habits. J.Ja

Erik Eckel
Erik Eckel

What? Are you thinking I said rent desktops or laptops or loan desktops or laptops to a client? We don't re-use systems. Once a system is sold to a client, it's that client's system. We don't take it back. These are items you (the consultant) buy, keep on hand and have ready to sell (permanently) to a client that needs such a system fast.

Erik Eckel
Erik Eckel

Thanks for the comment. At least you were honest. We sell maybe 5-10 copies of Office a week. So, it makes sense to keep extras on hand. Most of our SMB business clients use OEM, in our experience. Incidentally, I'm not "those guys" you could write for. I co-own and manage an IT consultancy with 15 engineers that will bill $2 million to $3 million this year.

Erik Eckel
Erik Eckel

Our consultancy will bill maybe $3 million this year. Is that big? I don't know. But we have single days in which we order $20K in hardware. So, keeping five extra systems on hand comes in very handy. If you only sell two computers a month, maybe you only need to keep one on hand. But we sell many more units than that each week, as do many other consultants with whom I've spoken or had coffee.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... since I started writing for this column. "IT Consultant" is far too broad a term if it includes me.

Justin James
Justin James

"I've worked for a couple of companies who function like this, it's really frustrating." As in, "I've worked for companies that try to be cheap about their IT", not "I've worked for companies like Erik's". Working for a company like Erik's would be frustrating too, mainly because you then have to deal with people with that mindset. I've done it from the angle of software development consulting... it's miserable. You get people who want to pay you $2k to do a Web site that will take 2 months, and when you try explaining that it should cost $10k or $20k, they say, "but my niece said she could do it in a week with open source package XYZ!" And they don't want to hear that you've used open source package XYZ, and that the week is to set it up at a basic level of functionality, and then it needs another 6 months of modification and customization to do what they *want* and a week of design work to make things look really nice and work cross platform, which is why you said 2 months... J.Ja

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

like Erik leaves them much of a choice ;) The image I get is, that Erik speaks in words rimmed in iron.

Justin James
Justin James

"Most of our SMB business clients use OEM, in our experience." You know what that sounds like? A big old violation of Office licensing. Are they OEMs? Sure, anyone slapping together a whitebox likes to think that they are an OEM, but they aren't. They need to be either doing retail licenses or business licensing. Now, you could be doing OEM if you were building those inexpensive boxes you stock and using those OEM licenses for those boxes. But the idea that your customers just buy OEM licenses... well, they aren't OEMs. J.Ja

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Ever since the advent of Visual Basic, software packages of every ilk have striven to get up and running as quickly as possible, then leave you to tweak the details. It's a laudable approach, but unfortunately it creates the misconception that you're "done" when you've only just begun.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

"Right. Call me in a week, then. I promise I won't laugh!"

Justin James
Justin James

Erik - Your original wording made it sound like you keep OEM licenses on hand, and sell those licenses to your customers, who are not using them in an OEM scenario. This is what you said: "We sell maybe 5-10 copies of Office a week. So, it makes sense to keep extras on hand. Most of our SMB business clients use OEM, in our experience." So it really does sound like you are selling OEM licenses to your SMB customers, who should should either be using retail or getting volume licensing depending upon their situations. But from your response, it sounds like you are simply using those OEM copies to pre-load onto machines you are selling, which is totally legit. I think maybe it's just a misunderstanding of what you wrote. J.Ja

Erik Eckel
Erik Eckel

Justin, I'm not sure I follow what you're saying. Are you saying it is a license violation to install OEM software on PCs that are resold? I hope not, because you'd be wrong. A system builder need not build the box the software is installed on. Microsoft states that to be the case (look for the part where Microsoft says system builders can install OEM software even on refurbished machines, including Compaqs and HPs named as examples) on its Web site here: http://www.microsoft.com/oem/en/licensing/sblicensing/pages/licensing_faq.aspx. Microsoft even adds that PC resellers may load OEM Office licenses on PCs that come preloaded with OEM Windows operating systems. Here's an example from Microsoft's licensing page for Office 2007: "Q. I am a reseller of PCs that come preloaded with OEM Windows operating systems. Am I allowed to load OEM Office 2007 onto these machines? A. Yes, you may install OEM Office 2007 software onto the computer systems as long as you do so in compliance with the Microsoft OEM System Builder License." Can you clarify your statement? I wish to ensure I understand what you're alleging on a public bulletin board.

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