How to Purchase Computers for Your Small Business

Many people involved in the field of computers for the small and medium-sized business – with the exception of the com­puter salesmen – would probably agree that the majority of buyers approach the decision to invest in a computer from entirely the wrong direction.

The bombardment of blandishments from makers and sellers proclaiming that they have the biggest for the money, the most compact for the money, the fastest, the biggest memory leads inevitably, not only to bewilderment, but more importantly to a concentration in the mind of the potential buyer on which com­puter to buy.

Purchase Computers

The result is the often-quoted instances of machines being bought, used for a few weeks and then abandoned in exasper­ation, with an expensive investment left idle and the buyer thinking of a rather different kind of hands-on interface – to use the jargon – with the seller.

The problem could, in most cases, almost certainly have been avoided if the buyer had ignored the question of which computer to buy and considered the question of how to buy -avoiding as far as possible technical considerations or compari­sons in which the buyer probably had little or no expertise, and applying instead a little commercial common sense.

That, of course, is easy to say, especially as it goes beyond the normal basic response to the statement that it is important to know what you want the computer to do now and in the future, which is to list recording functions such as purchase and nomi­nal ledgers, sales ledger, payroll.

The main aim of a computer should be to improve the func­tioning of the business and so improve profitability. To achieve this, a number of key factors have to be considered, ranging from the monitoring of cash flow, inventory management, the effectiveness of a salesman, to many other factors, the combi­nation of which will vary from company to company.

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The computer must provide information in the right form and frequency to help in the management of those factors.

Once those key factors have been established the prospective buyer needs to describe on paper in straightforward com­mercial terms the information and processing requirements of the business, including some details of accounts and trans­actions volumes, remembering to allow for both current needs and changes or expansions in the future.

There are two advantages to making a written statement of the key factors: first, it provides a more accurate and detailed Picture of what is needed from the computer; and second, potential suppliers can be presented with the documents and asked to propose solutions and quote prices. It is then up to the supplier to provide a system to perform the defined tasks.

Again, it may sound easy in theory to follow these methods but in practice there is often a need for assistance in doing so The opportunities for finding such assistance have been growing with, for example, the development of the Federation of Microsystems Centres, with a network of systems spread around the country offering independent advice and training, as well as the information technology centres, which are often microsystems centres themselves.

A recent development in the field of independent advice has been the way in which the large firms of accountants, increas­ingly orienting themselves towards smaller firms, have started to move in, with two of the biggest, Arthur Young and Arthur Andersen, launching services aimed at the small to medium-sized business.

Arthur Young launched their scheme in March 1984, having recognised some time before that, as computer prices dropped, the cost of traditional management consultancy assignments for clients would become disproportionately high. At first they in­tended to continue giving expert guidance but to allow clients themselves to carry out much of the work, wherever practicable.

They have since moved on to develop what they call the Small Business Computer Selection Package. This is a working document supplied in conjunction with a specific amount of consultancy time from an Arthur Young specialist at a set fee, containing checklists, guidelines and other information de­signed to provide the businessman with a structured method of following through the microcomputer selection process, where needs can be met by standard software packages.

It covers basic business requirements, evaluation of proposals from suppliers, implementation responsibilities, and accept­ance testing, as well as contractual considerations and computer terminology.

It meets the problems of the businessman who is looking at buying a computer for the first time and may not be sure of precisely which questions he should be asking. It forces them to think through the situation from a business management angle, analysing the business in a structured way to identify cost savings and profit factors, for example.

The Arthur Andersen microcomputer advisory service is called Microguide and can be tailored to suit the needs of each client. The service can be used to define the systems requirements in business terms and to assess the overall feasibility of and justification for computerisation. It also involves the selec­tion of suitable software, hardware, and suppliers by matching outline requirements to the firm’s existing knowledge of the features of the available products and inviting supplier proposals and evaluating them against a written specification.

Purchase Computers

The firm also supports the installation process, either by carrying out all the related tasks itself – such as developing the procedures, training staff, and testing and converting to the system – or by monitoring the installation work being done by a supplier.

Too often in the past the installation of a computer in small and medium-sized firms has caused problems rather than solved them. The increasing range of independent advice, particularly that which uses a ‘do it yourself approach and so leads to a better understanding of the process for the potential user, should help to reduce the incidence of such situations in the future.

Filed Under: Computers & Technology


About the Author: Justin Belden is a freelance web & graphic designer with over 15 years' experience. He is also an Avid member of the Design/Development community and a Serial Blogger who loves to help people by sharing interesting and informative tips and trick related to computer and technology.

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