As with any hired expert, advice provided by a computer professional should meet certain benchmarks, commonly referred to as "best practices" and "industry standards." These are based (to one degree or another) on various technological and economic factors, such as risk potentials, measured reliability, market health, purpose of use, business size and strength, and technology trends.
"Best practices" and industry standards both improve and change over time with the onward march of technology, and form the basis for operations planning, training, maintenance procedures, and repairs. As a basic example, connections to banks, online storefronts, and social networks require appropriate security protocols to protect identity and credentials in order to meet challenges posed by predators on the Internet. As the scope and nature of predatory practices change, security protocols and practices also change. Complexity of passwords and proofs of identity have both increased in the past few years.
Computers should also meet minimum standards in order to function reliably. Reliability is measured by the ability to readily start (boot), shut down, compute, maintain safe operating temperature, store data, display information, respond to operator input, communicate with networks and peripheral devices, and interact with the operating system (Windows, OS X, IOS, Linux, etc.) and productivity software.
Three key factors to usability and reliability are:
- Physical health
- Ability to run selected software
The items most at risk of physical failure are fans and data storage drives, mostly because they are electromechanical devices having one or more electric motors that experience bearing wear. If you hear clattering or humming coming from a computer, chances are it's from a fan blade or motor. Storage disks also have fine tolerances between moving parts. Failures in power supply electronics is also common, and on-hand spares are recommended. Semiconductor failure in memory devices is also a common point of failure. Replacement of these parts is dependent on market availability, and as technology advances parts utilizing older technology are no longer produced and therefore become unavailable.
Ability to Run Software
A software purchase should receive careful scrutiny with regard to its capabilities and computing system requirements. Software must match the operating system versions and computer capabilities that it was designed for. In fact, software requirements typically dictate computer selection and configuration. It must peacefully coexist with other software, and not overwhelm the computer. Productivity software and operating systems are often co-dependent and age-dependent. Old software doesn't often get along well with new computers, and will both reduce productivity and increase support costs. In addition, many software systems created for business are designed to interact with other software. When one changes, the other(s) may have to change as well.
Security and Inter-connectivity
Computers requiring Internet access must meet additional criteria in order to remain functional and secure in an ever-changing Internet and market landscape. Security and online safety is, for the most part, measured by the ability to mitigate dangers posed by those on connected computer systems, which have the ability to probe for vulnerabilities and inject hostile or parasitic software that can take advantage of those weaknesses and provide unwanted access.
Computing devices, plans, and practices that are found outside of industry standards and "best practices" should be considered obsolete (or nearing obsolescence), and should be improved or replaced. For all of these reasons, today's computers have a normal useful life of between 3 and 7 years. Failure to budget for timely replacements will lead to unexpected failures and additional support expenses. Because of changing technology and markets, achieving backward compatibility with old software and networks with replacement computers will also likely cost more. In the end, replacing a computer approaching obsolescence may be less expensive, especially if major changes in technology have occurred.
An I.T. adviser can measure systems, practices and goals against both industry standards and "best practices," technology trends, and business plans, and can provide recommendations and planning that will meet goals and advance productivity and profitability.
Adherence to "best practices" and industry standards provides long term benefits for a disciplined person or company. Without a plan to move forward with technology, the usual result is moving backward financially.