Horse Sense #111

Think Outside the Box

Buying the Box Starts from the Outside

People tend to buy computing tools backwards. They spend a lot of time looking at the hardware and worrying about the cost of it. The "lowest cost technically acceptable product," in government parlance, is often a huge mistake. It does not matter how much something costs if it does not do what you really want it to when you need it.

The when you need it is important. If something is not available for one reason or another (just announced, discontinued, back ordered, etc), then you cannot get there from here. There is no such thing as instant anything. You have to allow time for the procurement, for shipping, for integration, etc. If you are counting on a product that is back ordered, be careful about believing anything that is said about when you can get it. Pessimists live safer lives!

Maybe there is such a thing as instant. If you have thought ahead and added capability, accessories, capacity, or other features that you might need at the beginning, you win. You will have that stuff when you need it. Buying a good and complete tool set is always a good idea and a great reason why you should think skeptically about limiting yourself to the "lowest cost technically acceptable product." Just because some salesman or friend recommends you add something to your purchase you had not considered does not mean you are wrong, a dummy, or being sold something you do not need. Having more capability/ability may cost you more, but it will cost a lot less than not having enough when you need it. There is an old saying that practically anything hard and heavy can be a hammer, but it is better, easier, and more effective to use a hammer made for the job. The collateral damage to both the work and the worker is likely to be less as well.

Start with what you want and will want to do. Then look at the software you will need to do it. Then look at the hardware, accessories, support, training, and other infrastructure you will need to help you handle it. In that order, you will come up with a pretty good answer. It will not be perfect. It never is. But it will be the best you can do with what resources and knowledge you have for now. Any other order almost guarantees later grief.

Think about the possible lifetime and uses of the products and services you are buying. Think of what might go wrong and how you might deal with it. Think about what else you might need to use to make things easier. You do not need to know everything. Talk to a sales professional to get their advice. The best sales professional to talk to often does not work for a single manufacturer, but they do work for you and know the market. [Hint-Iron Horse.] Spending the money to do something right in the beginning is a lot easier than having to fix later issues. No one knows how the future may turn out, but you and your sales professional can make some pretty good guesses. A sales professional may "go backwards" and question what you are doing and why. They try to understand your problem before proposing any solutions. Do not be surprised if they say you do not need anything or they take out something you thought you needed. I have often done that with clients. Go ahead and question their choices. They should be able to support them well.

Make it easy on yourself. You know what you want to do. So start with that and start thinking about the future. You might even have an idea about what software might help you do what you want. Once you at least know what you want to do, start engaging sales professionals and other experts. See what they can do for you. Prepare to be disappointed. Good stuff usually costs more money. Even advice can cost money. It should not be a big deal because you do the same thing with other professionals like doctors and car repair shops. Be very careful with the do it yourself approach through the Internet, especially when it comes to business. Many business products are not well represented and the statistics say that do it yourselfers tend to have extremely high error rates and levels of dissatisfaction. Look for someone who wants your business now and over time: someone you can have as an advisor, like an accountant. If you cannot handle the entire process from start to finish, it is best to engage champions who will make sure they always act in your best interest.

The more you separate the person who has a problem from the person who can solve it best, the more likely you are to have errors and issues creep in. We tend to think that technology like e mail or on line bidding systems or layers of bureaucracy make things better and safer. Often, the opposite is true. Business is about people trusting one another. You trust the salesman can help you enough that you give him your hard earned money for what he has. He trusts you to pay and deal with him fairly. Many larger organizations distance the "end user" from the sellers/salespeople. If you turn over your problem to someone else, then you can either accept whatever they do or "ride herd" on what is happening. Those who work with their procurement people through the process tend to have much better results than those who do not. Be nice. Help the procurement people help you get what you really want.

So, computing hardware is expensive right? Wrong. It is the least expensive part of the deal. And a shiny new PC, phone, or tablet may as well be a brick without the right supporting software, peripherals, protections, and service. You can easily spend much more on these items than on the device itself. And, you should. A device that is less effective or available is a poor tool. At best it will be frustrating. At worst, you may not be able to do what you need to and will have to start over or spend time and money working around something you should not have to.

Meeting the Real Need

Why your portable device may be more expensive than you think. To get the most out of it, you may need any or all of the following:

(1) Enhanced support. I especially like the extended term warranties with accidental damage protection.
(2) A backup drive or two. Maybe extra drives for projects.
(3) An off site backup, like a cloud backup.
(4) A carrier wireless USB card. A Bluetooth adapter. A USB Wi-Fi network adapter or router. A Wi-Fi signal booster. You may need them to support the latest standard or get better connectivity.
(5) A really good bag. There are an unbelievable number of choices to fit every lifestyle.
(6) Headphones/ear buds to take with you. You may also want quality desktop speakers for good sound at your home base.
(7) A microphone for remote meetings, making podcasts, or making calls at your desk.
(8) Extra batteries for the trip.
(9) Extra chargers. I have one at home, one at work, and one in my bag.
(10) Ethernet, USB, or HDMI cabling.
(11) A lock.
(12) Security software to help protect against theft.
(13) A laptop cooler/stand for more comfortable and cooler typing.
(14) Computer glasses for less stressful viewing.
(15) Microfiber cleaning cloths and/or eyeglass/screen cleaner. Do not use glass cleaner which might remove antiglare coatings. Water is OK if you do not have eyeglass/screen cleaner available.
(16) Voltage converters for the car and/or airplane and/or overseas.
(17) A docking station.
(18) A good firewall router.
(19) Professional service is a good idea. Yes, I know you do not do it, but you should care for the computer you drive like your car.
(20) A mouse, keyboard, or numeric keypad.
(21) A DVD or Blu-Ray external drive.
(22) A really nice network (mobile equipment does not tend to do well without connecting to something).
(23) A protective case, screen cover, or privacy screen.
(24) A thumb print reader for security.
(25) A regular or portable printer.
(26) A scanner.
(27) Centralized production storage for your work.

You get the idea. I was not even trying hard when I made this list. When you are getting that spiffy new item, try to make sure you also get the things that will make it useful as well.

A Warning on Consumer versus Business Equipment

Consumer equipment is often deficient in terms of what you can get to accessorize it. It may be cheaper out of the box, but the accessories business users (and many consumers) want may be expensive or simply unavailable.

©2014 Tony tirk, Iron Horse