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What's the best refresh cycle approach? Phased or big bang

October 2011

Bruce Michelson is a regular contributor for The HP Blog Hub.

Many businesses are wondering—should we phase the refresh cycle or should we just "bite the bullet" and big bang the refresh? As in all matters of client life cycle management, there is no right or wrong answer, only conscious and unconscious decisions. Having said this, however, one can make a strong business case in either scenario depending on your particular business, however, the phased argument is now more challenging to make, to a high degree I have changed my view on this as well.

As in all of my blogs, the opinions represented in this blog are mine alone and do not represent my employer.

This year, the budget cycle has some unique aspects to it for client computing. As a counter measure for the Great Recession, many of us (actually most of us) extended the useful life of desktops and laptops. Now our PC fleets are aging. In many cases the new software releases, energy management and power management options, applications, are not quite ready to optimally run on these older devices. We have inadvertently delivered on two things that may/will come back to "haunt" us in IT. First, we did do more with less, and we made the older devices work in the environment. Second, we have conditioned our end users to accept existing age and speeds (and hour glasses) as an acceptable response.

Now we are going forward to leadership and asking for funding to improve the PC fleet. This refresh cycle will likely require a detailed business plan.

This refresh cycle is different than all others before it as we have discussed in several of our blogs—Windows 7, new Intel chip sets, new form factors, new technologies, virtualization, the list is quite an impressive one.

Y2K was our last major IT refresh where it was not a "business as usual" refresh cycle. No one will forget the remediation efforts, and the big "sigh" that happened at 12:01 am. (perhaps big "yawn" is a better reference)

The choice this refresh cycle is whether to embrace and continue the phased refresh, to get back to the 25-30% annual model or to embrace the "big bang". For definition purposes, let's consider a big bang as a greater than 60-70% refresh pattern.

Most of the industry experts have published and written that the phased refresh cycle is the optimal. (Myself included in the past). The idea that disruption to the end user is mitigated, the resources can be leveraged, budgets are constrained, and a host of other valid considerations are still applicable, however, my opinion is that this perspective may be dated.

In the past 24 months while we were extending the useful life of the fleet, the technology footprint has dramatically changed. We could actually make a business case that suggests that the benefits lost in terms of operating expenses may well offset much of the budget required for this upcoming refresh.

If the conversation with leadership is solely about Capex it will be a short conversation. If you do not have the budget, then there is only so much you can replace. I understand that, but (and this is a big but) if it is all about the capital, at some point you will refresh the fleet, all we are doing is postponing the inevitable. Leasing, PC as a Service, consolidation of the PC budget to IT, all begin to play in this refresh cycle.

In providing guidance in this area, I would not be surprised if up to 40% of the Capex costs are offset by gains in Opex.

End users are seeking a better experience, if you are hiring new personnel attracting them with 5-year-old technology (or greater) may prove to be interesting. How does a business justify more current technology to new hires and 5-year-old technology to its existing staff? These are examples of some of the trade offs that you may need to consider.

Normal times the phased approach works, I am of the opinion that this refresh cycle has drivers that are unique. The fleets are so old by PC standards that we are almost left by default in a big bang scenario.

The recovery from this Recession, suggests that access to information is a competitive edge (for real this time).  

What are you businesses doing to address this issue in your company?

I believe that going forward, it will be a challenge to go back to the phased refresh model.

There is an expression in New England that "you can't get there from here." I am not so sure that we can return to the pure phased refresh approach in the near term without comprising end user experience, productivity, security, and access.

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