How to manage the lifecycle of your company's computers

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With the right re-purposing strategies, your organization can maximize the value of its computer investments. Here's a look at the best ways to get all you can from that aging equipment.

I recently flew back from San Francisco, and a contractor for a major telecom company that advertises itself as "leading edge" to its customers was seated next to me.

She was using a bulky 2010-vintage laptop to do her work.

When I asked her about the machine, she told me, "That's what the company issues to its contractors."

In another case, I was visiting a major IT provider that also boasts state of the art solutions for its customers--and was completely surprised to see a typewriter in the administrative area of the company's headquarters! The person working there said she was still using the typewriter for certain types of label printing that canned software on a PC couldn't handle well.

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The moral of the story is that while companies do recycle and get rid of old personal and mobile computer equipment, many try to repurpose and use it for as long as they can to keep new equipment expenses down. In most companies, these aging machine travel down a food chain. It begins with the company super users getting the latest equipment, which is then recycled downward through the ranks of average and rare users. If the equipment is still working after the rare users are finished with it, it moves on to specialty functions, like label printing. From there, it finally moves out the door to a charity or to a recycling boneyard.

I have also seen some of these old relics in places like machine shops and feed mills, where dirt and dust abound--and where you wouldn't want to place a new piece of equipment.

This downward movement of personal and mobile computer assets until they just can't perform anymore is sound IT practice, and it is built on these three cornerstones:

Requisition new equipment for power users whose functions absolutely require it. These individuals often are in areas like accounting, engineering, or even in areas like market research.

For new equipment, plan for an average life of three years, which is the formula most accountants use to fully depreciate personal computer equipment and printers. Just before the three-year cycle is up, downwardly redeploy super user assets to average level users and buy new equipment for the super users.

Once equipment is at the three-year mark, you generally have a useful life of three to four years left before equipment totally obsolesces or fails. This is the time to take the old gear and redeploy it in the warehouse, in a plastics fab shop, in a feed mill, or in some other low-use computing area that is dusty or dirty.


Equipment reassignment policy

To achieve the maximum benefit from IT assets, organizations should ensure the longest possible lifespan for assigned equipment through proper usage support, maintenance, and reassignment. This policy provides guidelines for reclaiming and reusing equipment from current or former employees. It outlines the steps that must be carried out by authorized individuals before this equipment can be considered safe to reassign.

A number of newer ways to manage aging personal and mobile computing equipment have also emerged over the past few years. These include:

Lease, don't buy

In other words, if you enter into a three-year lease for 500 PCs with a vendor, trade them in on the lease and get new equipment after the three-year mark. This enables your company to avoid depreciating old equipment.

Use thin computing

Except for a few power users who might require them, most company employees can use cheaper, thin client computers where storage is achieved in the cloud. This practice helps ensure that corporate documentation is secured and not left unattended on hard drives.


Complement your company-owned PCs and mobile devices with a strong BYOD (bring your own device) policy that enables your employees to use their own equipment.

Conduct employee auctions

When old equipment truly is at the end of the line but still functioning, companies can also offer it to their employees on a cheap buyout or auction basis. One person I know bought an old server at his company and then turned it into a security proxy server for his home computing network.

For CIOs and other IT leaders, the most critical element of all is to create a policy and accompanying procedures to administer the old equipment. IT staffers can then follow the guidelines without having to ask questions. The importance of having a policy and a standard process can't be underestimated.

  • First, you want to equipment deployment to be as rapid and as brainless as possible, because there are many other things for IT to do in a day.
  • Second, clearly stated policies and procedures eliminate employees fighting over equipment in company selloff auctions. I have actually seen this happen--and it isn't beneficial for employees, IT, or the company.

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