You hear a lot about the advantages of standardizing the hardware in your shop. Having to deal with only one vendor, easier upgrades, and smoother license tracking are just a few of the advantages. But as an IT manager knows, no decision is that simple. Even if you’re in the position to standardize—that is, you’re not bound by legacy systems—you should do yourself a favor and consider all sides of the issue.

In this article, IT pros outline the pros and cons of standardization and offer questions that will help you determine what to think about before you decide to standardize.

Standardization pros
“If you have a shop with too many flavors in it, you’re just going to create a troubleshooting nightmare for yourself,” said Joe Edwards, a senior system administrator with eLink Communications, Inc., an ISP in Bethesda, MD.

“You’re going to have a situation where you have this big robust system and it’s going to take you so long to diagnose what’s really going on,” he said.

There are several benefits to using hardware equipment from one manufacturer or vendor, said Brandon Washington, an IT manager with The Townsend Agency, an emerging-technology public relations and advertising firm in San Diego. He listed his top three.

Working relationships with vendors
Working with one vendor gives you the opportunity to establish a solid relationship with one contact. This can help you when you have an emergency. “If you have a good relationship with a vendor, then they are more apt to go out of their way to assist you with critical issues and when you need product expedited…a lot of times, they’ll stay late and wait for you,” said Washington.

Having one relationship can mean that the vendor understands your organization’s business and what the organization wants to achieve. “If you use one vendor, then typically the vendor is familiar with your business and its requirements, products, and your standards,” he said.

Smooth license tracking
Using a single vendor makes it easier to organize and track licenses. “If you only have one vendor and you need to validate a software license, or track an item that you’ve ordered, then it makes it easier to facilitate,” he said. For example, if you buy a new computer from a vendor, you know you’re covered because you can always go back to the vendor for the license information on that machine, said Washington.

Upgrades are easier
If your organization standardizes its hardware on Compaq, for example, running Compaq upgrades should be easier. “Using one product makes finding compatible hardware and software easier,” he said. And running upgrades with compatible products puts less stress on your users because often the updates are a seamless process for them.

Always standardize on products that you can upgrade, said Washington.

Standardization cons
The drawbacks to standardizing hardware through buying from one vendor include the following:

No longer nimble
If you deal with only one vendor, you lose some bargaining power and may not get the best price available on a product. “It kind of takes away some of your leverage,” said Washington. He suggests that managers keep another vendor “waiting in the wings” to regain some of the lost bargaining power. If a vendor knows you can get the same product somewhere else for less, they may work with you, he said.

May experience delays
Using one manufacturer can slow you down if you’re waiting for a piece of equipment that’s yet to be released or that is on backorder. This situation may mean you must wait for a part you need immediately, forcing a delay for your team and your projects. “If you’ve got a product that you require that’s not in stock or on backorder, then you’ve painted yourself into a corner,” said Washington.

Ask before you leap
CIO Mireilli Staub, a member of Tatum CIO Partners, LLP, a nationwide partnership of senior-level IT professionals, said managers should write down exactly what they need to get out of the products they want to buy. “I think before every IT purchase (the) way to work is to put [the pros and cons] on a piece of paper,” she said. The following is a list of questions Staub says managers should answer before they standardize:

  • What are your real options?
  • What result is most important to the company?
  • Can the help desk support the products you want to implement?
  • What about the product is most important to the organization? Is it price, selection, or having a live support contact?
  • What is the overall support contract offered with the product?
  • Will the products be easy to fix if an employee on a business trip needs a fix?
  • Do you need to use thin clients?
  • Do you need high-tech machines?
  • What’s the insurance plan on the products?

Finally, don’t give up on the homework part of this strategy, said Staub. Study all of your options before you commit to one vendor.