The first time CIO Mireilli Staub understood that buying hardware from one manufacturer was a good idea was when she had to make a former employer Y2K compliant. A single manufacturer had built the systems she was charged with upgrading. As a result, “We had no problem whatsoever…we knew all the models, we knew what to do and what we might have to upgrade.”

Upgrading the organization’s hand-built legacy systems was another story. She wasn’t sure they would see the new millennium because the legacy systems were “…bought and put together by hand…we just didn’t know whether they were going to make it or not because the manufacturers had disappeared or nobody knew about their buyers,” said Staub, a member of Tatum CIO Partners, LLP, a nationwide partnership of senior-level IT pros.

“That’s the first time I…realized that we had been smart to actually go with one manufacturer,” she said.

Buying hardware from a single manufacturer or vendor may not save you money at the point of purchase, but a standardized hardware policy could pay benefits down the road through less expensive upgrades and other benefits.

Equipment standardization as a strategy
TechRepublic member Emmet Daly told us that an all Compaq server farm would dramatically reduce the maintenance costs in a typical shop because a system with standard equipment and shared spare parts is easy for an IT team to troubleshoot and maintain. “The IT staff would only have to attend a single training course and all services calls could be handled centrally,” he said.

For example, when Daly needs more Compaq hardware or applications to run on it, he calls Compaq or a certified Compaq reseller. This strategy, he claims, can streamline several organizational processes, including training the IT department and users on new equipment and tracking product reordering information and licenses.

Brandon Washington, an IT manager with The Townsend Agency, an emerging-technology public relations and advertising firm in San Diego, is a proponent of standardization. He said that working with one vendor or manufacturer allows him to establish a rapport that could pay off later.

“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 products expedited,” he said.

Also, buying from one manufacturer usually means that the sales and service representatives become familiar with your business needs. “If you use one vendor, then typically the vendor is familiar with your business and its requirements, products, and your standards. This kind of helps them help you,” said Washington.

Why it may not be cost-effective
Though he is a proponent of standardization, Washington does caution that using one vendor may eliminate the competition you need to get the best hardware price. For example, you might lose some of your power to haggle for the best price. “It kind of takes away some of your leverage,” he said.

Washington said that keeping a backup vendor on hand is one way to regain your bargaining power. For example, if a vendor knows you have access to the same product at a lower price, they may be willing to match or beat the price.

A backup vendor is also valuable if your primary vendor can’t deliver a product or part when you need it. Maintaining a second vendor contact will keep you from painting yourself into a corner, Washington said.

To avoid these delays, keep an inventory of the parts you have in stock and those parts that you anticipate you will need. You should then determine what parts your vendor keeps in stock.

Some standardization benefits
Cost is not always the driving force behind managers’ purchase decisions. Likewise, there are other reasons for standardization that might make up for its substandard cost benefits.

“I don’t think it is necessarily beneficial from a cost standpoint, but it does help to use one product from a training and support standpoint,” said Washington.

Below are some additional benefits of hardware standardization:

  • Standardizing equipment is smart if you use a vendor that sells several products, said Staub. “You get a lot of advantage from dealing mostly with one supplier for your computer systems, especially if they can cover the range from laptop to high-performance servers,” she said. For example, when Staub standardized equipment purchases, she was able to negotiate a contract that covered all the equipment wherever it was in the world.
  • Standardization can ease support problems because the support team doesn’t have to troubleshoot multiple systems. IT departments and the support team do have to provide the first line of defense, said Staub. “I’d say to try to keep the variety to a minimum,” she said. Washington added that using one standard makes training on the machines less complicated and time-consuming.
  • If you standardize on equipment that’s easy to upgrade, the organization’s users are less likely to notice any change when upgrades occur. “If you use one product and all the products look the same, and then you roll out replacements or upgrades, then users don’t notice,” Washington said. This can save you the time it takes to train new users.
  • Finally, standardization also makes it easier to track software licenses. “If you’re not tracking those licenses, you know that you’re covered anyway, because you can always go back to the vendor and get that information,” Washington said.

What hardware purchasing method do you use?

How do you negotiate the purchase of new hardware? Do you seek the best deal through multiple vendors or do you prefer to standardize hardware by buying from one company? Send us an e-mail or join the discussion.