When should you buy new technology?

When should you buy new technology? Some say that as soon as something better is available, others say wait until it breaks. I think the answer is somewhere in the middle.

When you buy cutting edge stuff, you also buy yourself about 6 months to a year of not being supported. Whatever you have that is cutting edge, very few people know about it, and even few have experience with it. So if it is a mission critical thing and brand new, this is a dangerous combination.

For example, I worked someplace where the owners wanted something the day it came out. That is fine, but then when there was a problem, there was no experience with that new feature. More critically this happens with iOS updates. There was an iOS update years ago that blocked the ability to use the phone since it wouldn’t connect to a network. Apple quickly pulled it, but for many people who updated immediately the damage was done. You had to do a very time-consuming fix to get it working again which was basically deleting everything and updating the firmware. Unsupported and most people would not do this.

When should you buy new technology?So when you buy a new technology is really more dependent on your willingness to assume risk. To me, if you buy something just for yourself you are always safe. Rarely does a purchase you buy make a difference in your life or death. Perhaps a car is an exception to this. However for a company, having a phone or laptop that is unproven is just asking for problems. I see this very common in business, and the negative consequences just as severe.

One company I worked at they ordered a laptop that was unproven and new. It had tons of issues, and ultimately they had to pull all of those laptops from use and give people different laptops. What an expensive mistake that was. Not only did it cause the IT department to lose credibility, but it was a huge waste of time for everyone involved. Of course hindsight is 20/20 but it is prudent to test things with just a few people and that wasn’t done.

It is easy for experienced IT people to say to the decision maker, “Trust me, this brand is reliable.” Yet too often, manufactures change vendors, equipment or even staff without telling their customers. This can made a big difference in the quality of the product. I have seen firsthand the difference in quality between different manufacturing locations. For example, many people believe that Lexus cars made in Japan are superior to Lexus cars manufactured elsewhere. I have no doubt that to be true as well. The difference between people living Kaizen and just being paid to believe in it, make all the difference in the world.

So you should buy technology when the risk and likelihood of failure is low. The first duty of technology is to be reliable.

Wireless printers more trouble than worth

In IT you frequently get asked to set up printers as wireless. That is, in a home network, the ability to directly print to the printer using Wi-Fi instead of the traditional USB connection. For the most part, this doesn’t work like people expect and hope.

Peoples expectation is that a wireless printer is just like a USB printer but no cables. If they have a laptop they strongly insist on this. The interesting part is that when they have problems, which most people do, they learn how fragile this setup can be.

Wireless printers more trouble than worthWhen a USB connected printer has a paper jam or whatever, it tends to talk to the computer and not have an issue. However when people have issues with their wireless printer, often the solution ends up having to reinstall the wireless printer. This is not a problem if they know how to do it, but most people do not know how to do it, so they depend on a companies IT staff to figure it out.

Now generally, IT are instructed by management to not work on any systems or devices that are not company owned. However practically this isn’t possible. For people who have a home office, IT end up supporting their office networks even though we didn’t set them up.

I had a client yesterday call and say that she tried to cancel her print job and it turns out she ended up deleting her printer! So I had to reset it up. Or I tried to, but it wouldn’t set up wirelessly. It kept giving an error which meant that either the printer was damaged, or the wireless connection on the laptop she was using. I was able set it up with USB and it worked perfectly. When I explained that wireless connections to printers can do this again, she didn’t want to be hassled again so left the USB connected.

All of this is a fine learning experience for the employee, but it comes at a cost to the company. I have seen that for many companies they figure at least a $50 cost for the time of the IT person and the lost wages of the employee not working. So a policy of supporting home offices ends up costing a great deal of time, and money figuring out things like this.

Of course you may say I’ve had a wireless printer and it has worked great. That is great. However since most people don’t know how to set one up, and don’t know how to deal with problems when they have them, I always recommend a USB connection. If they are tech savvy then they can solve their own problem and I don’t care what connection they use. Part of being in IT is finding ways to save money, and that means learning from mistakes and not allowing them to happen again.

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