Pulling the trigger: When is it time to upgrade?

   As with anything, weigh the costs of any potential upgrade with the benefits it would give

Greg Iwasaki, general manager at Tele Net Technologies, says a business should upgrade its phone system if it would increase productivity in a cost-effective way.

Heidi Schiller
   With technology advancements increasing at what seems like the speed of light, and with so many options out there, its hard to know when to upgrade your office technology systems and how much money you should spend.
   Here are a few local expert opinions on when you should upgrade computer software and hardware, phone systems and Internet connections as well as printers, copiers and fax machines.

When should you upgrade computer software?
   Bill Thibodeau, otherwise known as The Computer Gecko, said that if your computer software is not doing the things you would like it to do, or if you hear or see something in the news about a particular piece of software that has features you think you’re missing, it’s time to upgrade.
   If you haven’t upgraded software in about a year, he recommends checking the Web site of the company that made the program to see if there are any updates for the software you use, before buying new programs.
   Most businesses should have at least word processing, spreadsheet and e-mail programs and a Web browser, he said.
   Other programs that can improve a business’s functioning are a Microsoft PowerPoint viewer and an Adobe Acrobat reader, both of which can be downloaded for free on their respective Web sites.

How much should you spend on software?
   It really depends on the type of business you have and what you need, Thibodeau said. A small business can get by with Microsoft Office, the most basic version of which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, and costs about $150 to $200.
   Other programs, such as accounting systems or architectural programs vary in price depending on how advanced a program you need.

When should you upgrade computer hardware?
   If you’re buying programs that have requirements your computer can’t meet, it’s time to upgrade, Thibodeau said. For example, new programs will require a lot more memory. In years past, you could get by using most software programs with only about 256 megabytes of RAM, but now you need a minimum of about half a gigabyte, and Thibodeau recommends at least one gigabyte of RAM.
   You’ll know that it’s time to upgrade if your computer starts to run slowly or if your Web browser is having trouble reading something or is receiving a lot of error messages, but Thibodeau recommends getting a tune-up first, before buying a new computer.

How much should you spend on a new computer?
   “For a business, I think you should err on the side of spending more money. I would recommend someone buy something that will meet the requirements of at least a year from now,” he said.
   Thibodeau said some excellent bargains can be found by researching on the Internet and talking to local businesses. Tell them what you want to do with your computer and then go from there, he said.
   For a basic computer, Thibodeau said you should spend about $700 to $800, but for a computer he would want to use, he said he would spend about $2,000.

When should you upgrade your phone system?
   Greg Iwasaki, general manager for Tele Net Technologies, recommends businesses look at whether a new phone system would increase employee productivity, and by how much, when considering whether to upgrade.
   Iwasaki said lost productivity occurs from employees writing down phone messages, finding the recipient, calling people back or losing the message altogether.
   If you think you may be spending more money on wasted salary per year — for employees’ time used to deal with an inefficient phone system — than you are spending on your phone system per year, it’s time to upgrade.
   “If there is a technology that can increase communication, then you want to start embracing that,” he said.
   Iwasaki said that while all businesses have different needs for their phone systems, there are a few things to consider regarding an upgrade.
   Would it benefit your company to be able to make “trunk-to-trunk transfers” or “bridge calls?” This is the ability for a caller to be directed immediately to the employee’s cell or other phone if they are not in, and can have that option when they reach the employee’s voice mail.
   Iwasaki said most of his clients use this feature because they want to be able to connect with a customer or with important information as soon as possible. Again, this directly relates to productivity, and if your productivity increases in a way that is cost beneficial, Iwasaki recommends it.
   He also said that having an auto attendant, a recorded voice that directs callers to different line extensions, is a good idea, especially if the office does not have a receptionist.
   Another option would be to get unified messaging, a feature that sends all faxes, voice mail and e-mails to a desktop to be managed there. This would be a good option for businesses that have a lot of salespeople in the field, he said.
   Caller ID is another important feature that could be beneficial to many types of businesses, he said.

How much should you spend?
   This can depend on the number of features you want. For an office with six people plus voice mail, he suggests spending between $2,500 and $3,000.
   A large company with over 100 employees could spend $20,000 or more, depending on what features they want.

When should you upgrade your Internet connection?
   Iwasaki said most businesses should probably not be using dial-up connections at this point. If you are waiting 30 seconds or more for something to download, it’s time to upgrade.
   “Or when frustration exceeds your productivity level and you say ‘I just can’t deal with this, it’s too slow,’” he said.
   “These days, information is key,” he said. “Let’s face it, we’re all spoiled, we want everything now. Once you get that information you can act on it. That’s a productivity issue as well.”
   Iwasaki said businesses should also analyze whether they’re losing their connection regularly or if they keep getting logged out.

How much should you spend?
   Again, this varies greatly depending on whether you have a server, how many users you have and how much security and what size of bandwidth you want to get.
   Generally, DSL can cost about $40 to $150 per month, depending on the connection speed.
   Then you also have to consider the cost for a modem if you don’t already have one, how many users you have, and the cost for a router, all of which can range in price from $100 to $1,000 or more.

When should you upgrade your printers, copiers and fax machines?
   Fred Schacht, president of Benchmark Document Solutions, said most office equipment will last for a long time with continual repair, and won’t need to be replaced unless it experiences a complete mechanical failure.
   However, he said that many businesses and organizations are choosing to upgrade to an integrated office equipment system, called a multi-function product, or MFP, in order to gain increased efficiency.
   “For example, an organization which has several desktop printers, a copier and a fax can replace them with one very reliable, cost-effective system,” he said. “In the process, they receive a lower cost per impression while streamlining their workflows.”
   MFPs perform copying, printing, faxing and scanning, and help a company create an electronic file cabinet that makes document storage and retrieval simpler and more efficient, he said.
   “Imagine being able to quickly and easily retrieve an electronic version of a document your customer is requesting from you. Then you can easily print it or send it to a recipient’s fax or e-mail inbox,” he said.
   He said most companies are motivated to upgrade to an MFP because of its overall cost-effectiveness and efficiency.
   “So, the old machine may be like a horse pulling a wagon. The horse will keep working for a long time,” he said. “But there is certainly a better, more efficient way of doing business today.”

How much should you spend?
   The cost of an MFP depends on the speed and volume capacity of the device, he said. Office-grade (monochrome-only) desktop versions start at about $1,400.



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