Purchasing the Right Computer for Your Business

By Carlene Cassidy

With so many options, where do you start? Begin by making a list of the features and functions you need for your business. For example, if your business is an architecture firm, you will most likely need some type of computer-aided design (CAD) program. Determine your budget ahead of time. Have a comprehensive list of needs and wants combined with a budget; this will allow you to focus on what is best for your business.

Prioritize your list. Similar to buying a car or a house, break your list down into categories of “Must Have,” “Want to Have,” and “Would be Nice to Have.”

When purchasing computer systems, begin your search with software. Your software is what drives your business systems, and every software package has requirements for the hardware platform it runs on. For example, the CAD program for architects is likely to require an increased amount of memory.

Prior to choosing software, define all of your input sources (every form and data element that is necessary for your business), all of your processing and calculation requirements, and all of your potential outputs (reports, proposals, drawings, etc.).

The idea of sifting through mountains of brochures and Web sites can be overwhelming, so you may want to start with the trade association for your industry and talk with other business owners to narrow your search. Before making a final selection, check references, verify warranty and technical support services, and if possible, arrange for site visits to see the software in action with happy customers.

A note about licensing: When you purchase software, you receive a copy of the software (often it is installed by the PC manufacturer or you receive it over the Internet via a downloadable file), and you also receive a license to use the software.

A software license will specify terms and conditions for use, including copyright laws, whether or not the user may install the software on more than one computer, and whether or not the user can create backup copies of the software. Additionally, software that you do not pay for (freeware or shareware) may have a license agreement with terms and conditions for use. Before you install any application, always read the license.

If you do not agree with the terms, do not install the software.

Violations of software license agreements can be catastrophic to a small business, with fines of up to $100,000 per violation. Be sure you have properly paid for and licensed all applications being used by your business. It is prudent to conduct an annual audit to be sure your company remains compliant.

Replacing or upgrading?
Know your current technology setup

Many of you may already have computer information systems that you are planning to replace or upgrade. Begin by taking an inventory of your existing systems. Use the checklist below to help gather the necessary information.

1. Number of computers:
2. Type of operating systems:
3. Name of Internet service provider:
a. The speed of your Internet connection:
4. Desktop applications in use:
5. Back-office software (i.e., financial management and accounting applications):
6. Business process you want to improve or any problems you are having:
7. Peripherals such as printers, copiers and fax machine (list make, model and year of purchase):
8. Type of network and the number of users on the network:
9. Type of server hardware and operating system:
10. Type of remote access capability:

Other items to consider:

Does the system you are considering include the following?

• The most current operating system
• Pre-installed applications
• Email software with a filter to reduce spam and junk email
• Features to block Internet pop-up messages
• An Internet firewall
• Privacy protection, protection from spyware
• Security features that protect your information from access by external threats
• The ability to receive automatic software updates via the Internet
• Virus protection
• Remote access capabilities, so that you can access your files from outside of your office
• Software to help monitor unsafe downloads

What is included in the maintenance agreement (i.e., response time, fees and technical support phone number)?

Reference: This list was modified from a checklist available on www.Microsoft.com

© 2010, Carlene Cassidy

Carlene Cassidy, Professor
School of Business, Computing & Technical Studies
Director, Entrepreneurial Studies Institute, Anne Arundel Community College cmcassidy@aacc.edu

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