23 reasons to upgrade your tech: How to make the case for spending approval

Buying decision factors can be broken down into six categories: Emotion, productivity, evolution, money, competitiveness, and health and safety. Here's how to make your case for upgrades big and small.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

Whenever I sit down to write an article, I think about you. I've talked to many of you over the years, so I feel like I actually know some of you. And while I don't know your individual fashion style choices, political affiliations, or favorite foods, there's one thing I know about each and every one of you: You've all made tech purchase and upgrade decisions.

Sometimes, the decisions are easy and inexpensive. Maybe you want to buy a case for your phone, a spare memory card, or some cables. But other decisions are huge. Is it time to buy a new computer? Is it time to upgrade the data center? Is it time to trade in a smartphone? Is it time to move to the cloud?

All these decisions are driven by a wide range of factors. For the expensive decisions, it's usually best to build a complete understanding of the factors involved in driving such a decision.

Most decision factors can be broken down into six main categories: Emotion, productivity, evolution, money, competitiveness, and health and safety. I'm going to present you with 23 reasons that fit within these six categories.

Making the argument for spending approval

The next time you're looking at a really big tech spend, consider how many of these 23 reasons apply to your purchase decision. Doing so may help you better understand how to make a choice.

In addition, if you've thought through these reasons, you may also make a better case to anyone else who's involved in the purchase decision -- whether that's a family member or a board of directors.

When you're asked why you need something, you can cite the individual reasons and make a far more credible case. For example, if you need to upgrade your work computer, telling your boss your old one sucks may not get you far.

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But now think about pitching it this way: It will make you more productive (Reason 4), substantially reduce errors (Reason 5), old hardware is no longer supported by updates (Reason 7), you have a hand-me-down plan for your current machine (Reason 15), and it will give you a competitive advantage you didn't otherwise have (Reason 17). Can you see how much more compelling that is when you're trying to convince your management to give you money for an upgrade?

One quick housekeeping note: Throughout this article, I use "it" as a bit of shorthand in my list reasons. When I use "it," what I mean is the "the item you're thinking about upgrading or buying."

And, with that, let's kick things off with the topic of emotion.

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In his landmark book on the psychology of shopping, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, Paco Underhill explained, "If we went into stores only when we needed to buy something, and if once there we bought only what we needed, the economy would collapse." He said that more than 60 percent of what people buy when they shop are impulse items, or items that were not on their shopping list.

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There's no doubt emotion drives some of our tech purchasing decisions. That's why we lead off our list with two powerful, if somewhat opposing, emotional forces: Want and dislike.

Reason 1: You just really, really want it.

Let's face it. We all make decisions based on emotions. I may have said I wanted my muscle car because it's more comfortable or fits my body better, but the main fact was, I just wanted it. We've talked about so-called "gadget lust" before. It's real and does drive sales.

Reason 2: It will remove an annoyance.

How many of us find some factor of the technology we use every day annoying? One term for the constant annoyances we live with is "tolerations." Tolerations cause stress and sap productivity. Eliminating or reducing tolerations not only helps you get more done, it frees up thinking cycles previously allocated to thoughts of frustration.

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We're all faced with the challenge of getting more done in less time than ever before. While increasing productivity is ostensibly about getting more done using less time or fewer resources, the bottom line is simple: If we can get more done in less time, we might get more time with our families, and maybe even get a full night's sleep.

Reason 3: It will clearly save you time or make you more productive.

My primary computer is a Mac for one main reason: It saves me days doing video editing. Final Cut Pro X is just vastly more reliable than Adobe Premiere. Because of that, even though Macs are more expensive and offered in far less variety, I buy them anyway. If I can save three or four days a week based on a single purchase decision, that's huge.

Reason 4: Substantial increase in ease of use.

We geeks tend to glory in complexity. But the fact is, we only have 24 hours in a day, and ease of use can be a big win. Ease of use is even more important when you're trying to get others to adopt a technology. If they can pick it up quickly and easily, and then enjoy using it, you'll have a lot more buy-in than if you have to push people to use tools they don't like.

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Reason 5: It can help you substantially reduce errors or mistakes.

I recently wrote about a measuring tool and a floor planning tool I really like. While the tools made moving easier, what they really did was help me precisely explain the work I needed done to very expensive construction contractors. By having accurate floor plans and measurements, I saved a ton in billable hours and a lot less work had to be redone.

Reason 6: It allows you to do something effectively that you otherwise couldn't do.

One of the reasons I've been so interested in desktop fabrication and 3D printing is the doors these technologies open. Having a 3D printer has enabled me design and build tools, brackets, and solutions that I otherwise would never have been able to make -- and, in many cases, weren't available to buy.

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Technology changes. In fact, one of the big debates going on right now is whether Windows should update as often as Microsoft seems to want. Managing technology change can be tough. Updates break things. And yet, to protect ourselves from ongoing threats and to remain compatible, updates are constantly issued by nearly all vendors.

Beyond just updates, each new technological innovation is built upon previous innovations. It's this evolutionary force that often drives our upgrade plans. Let's look at some of the specific reasons evolution factors into buying decisions.

Reason 7: Old hardware is no longer supported by updates.

We see this every year. This year, iOS 12 obsoletes iPhones from the iPhone 5 and back. That means not only won't updates run on those machines, but also security flaws won't get fixed and newer apps won't run. As technology marches on, sometimes we must discard our old gear simply to keep up.

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Reason 8: Something critical to your daily use won't work on old hardware anymore.

This is similar to the previous reason, but is more focused on what you do with your gear. One day, Chrome dropped support for the OS version running on my studio computer. I tried to log into a live webcast, only to find out I couldn't run the browser I needed. I used another machine to get through that situation, but suddenly, an upgrade became essential.

Reason 9: The stuff you were using is suddenly too slow.

Speaking of that studio computer, it used to run my live video broadcast software smoothly. But over the years, as OS upgrades and software upgrades got more complex, that once spry machine was no longer able to shoulder the load. I was doing the same stuff, but the hardware couldn't handle it. A new machine was needed.

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Money decisions are usually about either saving or making money. Upgrades to reduce overall cost make a lot of sense. But upgrades that change the cost structure or open up new opportunities to make money are also powerful drivers. It really is all about the Benjamins.

Reason 10: Substantial reduction in operating cost.

There was a time that data centers had one server running on one physical box. The power, cooling, and footprint impact was enormous. So when virtualization (and then containers) became practical, many IT operations bought new boxes that could do the work of seven or eight of the older boxes.

Reason 11: Move from CAPEX (capital expense) to OPEX (operating expense).

Of course, beyond server consolidation, there's the cloud. Instead of paying for physical machines with large payouts and difficult depreciation challenges, IT operations can buy resources as they're needed. Not only has this practice made organizations more responsive and more scalable, it's made their accountants happier, because it changes how costs are charged to the bottom line.

Reason 12: You have budget dollars to spend.

Use it or lose it. I've never been a proponent of the budgeting practice that all but forces departments to spend out their budgets, but some organizations do work that way. If you've got budget dollars that will evaporate at the end of a quarter or a fiscal year, jumping on a needed upgrade might just make sense.

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Reason 13: It provides you an education or career growth benefit.

I'm putting this in the money category, because education and career growth almost always result in a benefit to your personal bottom line. Sometimes, it makes sense to make a purchase because it gives you the opportunity to learn more about something, and doing so can help your career.

If you can find a way to tie your own personal gadget lust (see Reason 1) to career growth, this reason can also help you sell your purchase to your spouse, parent, or manager.

Reason 14: A feature you really need/want makes the cost worthwhile.

Your upgrade interest may not be about the entire device you're purchasing. It just might be a key feature you need. For example, while I do want more speed on my main desktop computer, the primary reason I'm upgrading is because I want an ultra-wide screen (and that's a productivity benefit, Reason 3), and my current graphics card won't support it.

Reason 15: You have a hand-me-down plan for existing tech.

Taking perfectly good tech out of service just because you want or need a new feature can be expensive. But if you can find a way to recycle the older machine, it might justify the cost.

When I make personal tech upgrade decisions, I often combine Reason 14 and Reason 15 together. I'll give you two examples. Our living room TCL Roku-based TV is perfectly fine, but I'd like more than three HDMI ports (yes, I can use an HDMI switcher, but that's yet more cables).

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I like how Roku TVs switch inputs (and it's intuitive to family members). If TCL came out with an identical TV with four or five ports, I'd buy it. My justification is I don't have a TV in the office, so if we upgraded the living room TV, we wouldn't be wasting money. We'd be adding functionality in two places.

The Apple Watch is another example. I have a perfectly good Apple Watch Series 2. For my productivity and filming use, my current Watch does all I need. But the EKG and health features of the Series 4 are attractive.

I couldn't justify just dumping my Series 2 (which has minimal resale value now), but since my wife wants to try out the Apple Watch instead of her Fitbit, the upgrade for one feature (Reason 14) and the hand-me-down (Reason 15) are justification to spend on the upgrade. But not until the EKG feature is actually available.

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Competitiveness is one of those words that often winds up being nothing more than corporate-speak. But the concept is too powerful to ignore. Competitiveness is about how strong a business is in comparison to others in its market. For individuals, competitiveness is how strong you are as a professional, and how appealing, in-demand, and monetizable your total offering is in the field you work in.

Now, when it comes to making upgrade decisions, a key factor is whether or not that upgrade will give you a competitive advantage. Here's a bit of a dive into four of those reasons.

Reason 16: It's important for your look or the impression you give.

If you've ever seen me on camera, you know I'm not a big fashion aficionado. But fashion is very important to some folks in certain fields. For example, if you're a person who makes one-on-one corporate sales calls, you may feel that carrying an old-looking laptop or clearly out-of-date phone might make you or your company seem equally out-of-date. Upgrading may be essential so you don't appear so last year.

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Reason 17: It will give you a competitive advantage you didn't otherwise have.

This is the big one in the competitiveness category. Can the technology you purchase be leveraged to help you do something others can't? This is often why companies invest in software development, supply chains, and machinery. If you can beat the competition in terms of what you produce, the quality you produce, or even the in terms of keeping costs below what it costs others to produce, you gain a competitive advantage.

Reason 18: It reduces or eliminates a competitive disadvantage.

This is a corollary to the previous reason. If your competition is beating you on some level, then investing in technology or upgrading your systems to bring you up to par or even ahead is often so well-worth the cost, it's almost mission critical.

Reason 19: It reduces or eliminates a fatal flaw in the current model.

Sometimes the device you're using is just flawed. It's either missing a key capability or is implemented in a way that's just not working for you. In that case, it's often time to move on.

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In a world rife with hacking attempts and data breaches, senior executives and boards have become far more willing to invest in safety and cybersecurity. Safety can range from customer safety to business continuity, and if you add in a new push for technologically-aided health systems, there are a lot of reasons for organizations and individuals to upgrade.

Reason 20: It fills in a hole in an emergency or business continuation strategy.

Last year, I boosted my investment in dynamic offsite backup. The reason? I had to run my company and do my job for three months based solely on my offsite backups, due to a hit by Hurricane Irma. Unfortunately, there were some business-critical digital assets that weren't available online. As soon as I could, I increased my investment and made sure those assets were also dynamically available online, anywhere, anytime.

Reason 21: It keeps your tech healthy or safe.

As I moved into a new house last month, the movers commented that I have a lot of UPS battery backups. We probably have 20 or 25 of these things. They're heavy and they're big. But back when we were in Florida, we had power failures all the time. If gear wasn't hooked up through a UPS, it was guaranteed to die. Given the guaranteed death of any non-protected device, it wasn't hard to justify the purchases of protective gear.

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Reason 22: Your personal needs change.

As I've gotten older, my eyes have gotten worse. While I can still easily read my iPhone screen, I've found sitting in front of small laptop screens gets tiring after a while. I've found that my eyes don't hurt as much when I use larger monitors, so I've upgraded or added external monitors for all my machines.

Reason 23: It keeps you personally healthy or safe.

This is the big appeal of the Apple Watch. After reading Jason Perlow's account about how his watch (connected to a beta heart monitoring program) saved his life, it became clear that I'll probably invest in an Apple Watch Series 4 as soon as the EKG feature becomes available.

Putting the reasons to work

There you go. The next time you need to get approval for a purchase, try making the case using these reasons. If it worked for you, let us know how things turned out in the comments below.

Disclosure: Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping is published by Simon & Schuster. Both ZDNet and Simon & Schuster are owned by CBS.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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