Hardware to consider adding to your 2021 IT budget

Learn how to determine which hardware to include in your 2021 IT budget, how to calculate your organization's hardware costs, and how the COVID-19 pandemic might affect next year's budget.
Written by Kristen Lotze, Associate Writer

Many companies now have a remote workforce due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This remote work trend might not change in 2021 (particularly IT teams), so it's helpful to ensure that your company has the best hardware in place to support employees as well as your on-premises needs. In order to get the most bang for your buck, find out how to decide which hardware to include in your tech budget, calculate costs, and choose the most affordable and top hardware.

How IT budgets are changing as a result of COVID-19

As many offices have shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, companies have had to switch gears and find new, efficient ways to continue with day-to-day operations. These challenges must be considered when planning the IT budget for 2021. 

Aaron Bianucci, head of information technology at cloud consultancy ServerCentral Turing Group, explains, "The hardest part in speaking about hardware and IT budgets right now [is considering] what is changing and what the 'new normal' will be in one, three, and even five years. The short answer is, no-one really knows, but we do know that connectivity and the ability to execute business processes, applications, and access data from anywhere at any time will be required. Not 'nice to have' -- required." 

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

Bianucci continues, "The biggest change… [is] in the acceleration of a transition to OpEx from CapEx budgeting. The costs and manner of acquiring team-member equipment are always going to be present. Simple transitions like introducing Microsoft Office 365 or Google Apps for email have a huge impact on the way budgets (and time) are allocated. The purchase of IT as 'services' is clearly going to increase more rapidly than it was -- and it was already happening rapidly."

Bianucci explains that companies are looking for maximum flexibility in how to purchase technology because what is appropriate today could be completely antiquated or miss the mark in six, nine, or even 12 months. Companies have to be able to make quick, rational decisions that meet business requirements. Flexibility is critical, and it's something all organizations are struggling with.

"Pre-COVID-19 disaster recovery and business continuity focused on the corporate offices and the data center," says Simon Townsend, chief marketing officer at IGEL, an international software company. "Today, these strategies need to consider and include the employee and how they access corporate applications and data. Any solution needs to support both working from the office and work[ing] from home. Offering the most secure, high performing, cost effective end user computing strategy should be a priority."

According to Townsend, "Hardware on the endpoint needs to be considered to support these new strategies, but an employee endpoint strategy doesn't mean spending millions on new shiny laptops and hardware. The world is powered by the cloud by subscription services and is in many cases invisible to us, thanks to Linux. Windows desktops and applications are key to our business, but they too can be accessed from the cloud for many, using hardware that would otherwise be disposed [of]."

How to decide which hardware to include in your 2021 IT budget

Deciding how to allocate funds for hardware can be difficult, so understanding exactly what you need and prioritizing accordingly can help.

Bianucci explains that, "In the past, standardization was key to enterprise or corporate hardware. However, standardization is a bit of a grayer area than it used to be. That isn't to say that standardization isn't important -- it absolutely has its place -- but today, this standardization occurs directly in-line with business objectives and each team's unique operating requirements." 

He also discusses how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the ways in which companies should decide on hardware. "No-one anticipated this happening. However, the underlying business objective -- business continuity -- was, or should have been, already present...we have to ask ourselves which operating groups within our business are mission-critical." 

Bianucci continues, "Once we know this, we can answer the question of what infrastructure and equipment is necessary for those teams to be functional during a situation where getting to the office is difficult -- or impossible. This could also be snow days, hurricanes, and so on. The concept remains the same. Having thought through these issues and having a plan for what infrastructure and equipment is necessary to keep the business operational provided us with the ability to address this issue, even though we could not have anticipated a pandemic."

Leon Adato, head geek at SolarWinds, which specializes in IT monitoring and management tools, offers his thoughts on deciding on hardware: "As much as it hurts to say, 2021 will not be the year to take risks, push boundaries, or try something new. Stability and performance are going to take precedence." 

Adato also states, "This is the time to pay down hardware debt by replacing end-of-life/end-of-support equipment and making sure your hardware and systems are up to date on security patches, support, and maintenance updates. You'll also need baseline capability to know what's normal for X system at Y time of day."

Townsend says, "In recent years, some may argue that hardware has been perceived as nothing more than a necessity and mandatory element of IT, predominantly supporting the business, the processes, and its employees. Applications, on the other hand, have been at the forefront of digital transformation, helping drive business through increased services and productivity."

Townsend explains that working from home (WFH) and mobile work are dictating IT strategies, hardware, and especially the employee endpoint, which is a key factor in helping organizations transform and future-proof their businesses.

"Balancing investment in hardware and software that enables the future of work in the most secure way, and which provides business continuity, is now a key priority for many," says Townsend. 

Leaders must also align hardware with company goals, whether the goal is enabling a remote workforce to get their work done in new ways and in new places or deploying mobile device-driven retail solutions or implementing strategic 5G enhancements to deliver new types of internal or external experiences, according to Ian Runyon, vice-president of product at Tangoe, which builds telecom expense management, managed mobility services, and cloud expense management software. 

"As a starting point, it's important to understand what hardware you have today, what you're spending on the hardware, and how your hardware is being used within the organization. Then you're able to evaluate whether your current technology can help you meet company goals. If not, now you have the visibility into where more investment is needed," says Runyon.

Top hardware to include in your 2021 IT budget

After deciding which hardware is essential in your IT budget, selecting the right products and services is the next step. Adato explains, "The best hardware tools to include in your IT budget are really going to be tailored to the remote workforce:

Townsend notes that, "At the intersection of security, WFH enablement, and cost-savings is the importance of migrating business applications (and desktops) to a data center or the cloud through VDI [Virtual Desktop Infrastructure] or DaaS [Desktop as a Service]. This allows centralized, vastly simpler management and secure deployment of business-critical applications which can be accessed anywhere." 

He continues, "Moving to a VDI/DaaS platform also will enable organizations to rethink their endpoint device strategy, introducing the possibility of providing employees with more secure, more cost-effective, greener thin client endpoints." 

Bianucci notes that, "Right now, the absolute best hardware to include in upcoming IT budget cycles focuses on team member productivity and network infrastructure. It's quite simple -- if people can't execute the business processes that are critical to the business, if the applications don't work efficiently on their equipment, or if they can't connect to key apps and data at all, it's a big problem for any organization. The basics are more than critical right now." 

How to calculate hardware costs for your 2021 IT budget

After deciding which hardware is crucial for your business needs, you need to calculate the hardware costs. There are various ways this can be accomplished. As Bianucci explains, "The most successful way we've seen is to break the IT budget conversation into two tangible categories:

  1. The cost of doing business: This budget category is the base of everything we do. It is split between our 'per employee' cost and routine maintenance cycle.

  2. The cost of enhancing the business: This budget category looks at the one-, three-, and five-year plans for the organization and highlights where IT can either help make the business more efficient, meet changing compliance/governance/regulatory requirements, or simply meet the one-, three-, or five-year objectives. As we conduct our research, testing, and case studies for the new technology, we also build a cost analysis of each solution, which includes the startup costs and the annual cost to the budget on a per employee basis."

Bianucci adds that there are more details, but the ultimate goal is to make the budget easily discussed, scalable, and tied directly to the size of the organization today and its expectations for the near-term future.
Adato states: "The three compelling businesses drivers to determine investments or setting aside budget are whether something increases revenue, reduces cost, or removes risk. While everyone hopes for the shiny increased revenue, that's not usually IT's angle. When we're on our game, we aim to reduce cost. But in 2021, it may be more effective to quantify the way an expenditure removes risk. For each [potential] item, list out the cost, the benefit to the business, and the risk if the item or service is not purchased."

Affordable hardware and your 2021 IT budget

According to Townsend, "The most affordable hardware is hardware that you can repurpose instead of completely replace. If you must replace hardware, then consider a thin or a zero client, which are less expensive, smaller, and produce less heat than a traditional PC. All-in-all, by replacing traditional PCs with endpoints, companies can save as much as 70%, according to Bloor Research, due to power, hardware, and overhead cost savings."

Runyon explains, "When it comes to affordability, keep in mind that just because something is cheap does not make it affordable. In many cases, an older or unreliable piece of equipment can be far more costly in terms of downtime, lost productivity, and employee happiness than a newer, high-quality piece of equipment. 

This is especially true in scenarios in which workers no longer have access to onsite IT. If a device doesn't support the latest software updates, then it becomes a security risk. It's often wise to invest in the best hardware to address the need, which saves money in the long run."

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