Buy in quantity. Dell, HP and other vendors change their models constantly, meaning that the computer you buy this week may be different from the one you bought last week, even if the model number is exactly the same. It may have a different network card, a different hard drive or even a different motherboard. If you space your purchases out over the year, each batch of machines will be a little different from the others. You can mitigate this somewhat by working with your sales representative and buying business-class computers (see the next bullet), but it’s still worth it to consolidate your purchases.
Buy business-class computers. When you’re buying new computers, consider business over home models. Manufacturers change the components in their business machines much less frequently, and they often will guarantee configuration support for a certain period of time (usually six months).
Plan ahead. If you speak with a broad cross-section of your colleagues and supervisors when you’re planning your budget for the year, you’ll know roughly how many new computers you’ll need and what other types of technology you’ll be buying, making it easier to standardize your equipment.
Make technology inventories and track your assets. If you know how many computers you have and how old they are, you’ll know roughly how many you need to replace in the upcoming year. Also, you can identify the one-off, nonstandard pieces of hardware and software in your library and then get rid of them as soon as possible.
Make purchases centrally. Although all staff should have some input into your purchasing plans, don’t let every department do its own buying unless they’re buying off of a predefined list of approved items. Individual purchasing can not only lead to hardware and software incompatibility, but it can also cause confusion on the accounting side as you try to sort through and reconcile bills from multiple vendors.
Accept donations selectively. If you accept every hardware donation that shows up on your doorstep, you’ll eventually have an unmanageable patchwork of computing equipment. One way to prevent this is to create a written policy specifying which donations you will and won’t accept. This policy can help you politely decline gifts that don’t fit with the mission and technology plan of your organization, and direct unwanted donations to qualified computer refurbishers and recyclers, where they will be updated or disposed of responsibly. Unsure about when to accept or decline the offer of new equipment? See TechSoup’s article Six Tips for Accepting (and Refusing!) Donated Equipment.
Adopt standardization policies. Your policies should reflect your decisions with regard to centralization and standardization. A simple policy entitled “Supported Hardware and Software” is a good start, but your IT purchasing policy, and your computer acceptable use policy should also reflect your approach to these questions.
Use systems management software suites. Microsoft’s System Center Configuration Manager (available on TechSoup Stock), Novell ZENworks and several dozen other software packages can help your IT department automate routine tasks and control the configuration of end-user machines. Be aware, though, that these programs are often expensive, complex and difficult to implement. Wikipedia has a list of systems management software and a short definition of this type of software. Also if your organization has a Windows domain controller (using Windows Server 2003 or Windows Server 2008, both available on TechSoup), you can use Active Directory and Group Policy to control the configuration of your desktop PCs. However, you won’t have all the options and features that you would get with most systems management systems.