Choosing the Right Office Equipment
Selecting the right office equipment isn’t as easy as it sounds. Rapid advances in technology mean that the equipment you buy today might be outdated in a couple of years. And items that once seemed essential – like fax machines – are quickly becoming obsolete.
So how do you choose equipment that meets your needs and budget, but also anticipates the future? Decide what you need and when you need it, do the best you can, and don’t look back when the next great thing comes along.
Hardware can be a significant expense, so it should be a line item in your budget. Hardware includes computers, printers, copiers and mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones.
- Determine your budget for computer and electronic equipment purchases. This will help you avoid overspending or going too cheap.
- Consult an IT professional to better understand what you need, so that you can avoid choosing the wrong hardware or spending extra money for high-end features you don’t really need. For example, the computers you choose must have sufficient power and storage and must be capable of running the software and peripherals you use in your business.
- Consult your employees. Find out how they use their hardware and what features are essential. You don’t have to buy the same hardware for everyone—some employees may only need a basic computer, for example, while others may need more power and advanced capabilities.
- Make sure new devices are compatible with existing systems. You may have better compatibility and easier servicing if all computers are the same brand.
- Consider bulk buys. Dealers may offer incentives if you purchase multiple hardware items instead of just one.
- Read customer and online reviews to identify potential problems and weed out products that sound great but don’t perform well.
- Don’t go too cheap. The least expensive option is not always the best one, and you may find that you spend more money servicing and replacing a cheap product than you would have spent to buy quality in the first place.
- If you’re having trouble fitting the equipment you need into your budget, consider buying gently used or refurbished hardware.
A Closer Look
Once you understand your company’s hardware and equipment needs, it’s time to take a closer look at what’s available and how it can work for your business. The following technology is standard for most small businesses.
Printers and Copiers
Printers and copiers still have their place, even in a digital world. And they can vary greatly in price and capability. A printer, copier or multifunction machine that can handle most small office tasks costs vastly less than it used to. The sticker shock may come when you have to replace the ink cartridges. Investigate the cost of both the printer/copier and the cartridges and read customer reviews to understand how frequently you’ll need to buy new ink.
In shopping for printers and copiers, consider these factors:
- Page size, volume and frequency
- Your need for color. Color printers and copiers cost more than black and white models, and the ink is more expensive. If you need multiple machines, consider whether they all need to print and copy in color.
- Whether you need presentation or standard quality
- Whether you want a laser or inkjet printer. Laser printers cost more initially, but they offer good print quality, fast speeds and longer toner cartridge life. However, inkjet printers are better for printing photos.
- Whether you need to make large-format copies
- Available office space
- The number of people using the printer or copier
- The ethernet or wireless setup.
If your needs are fairly basic, you may save both money and space by purchasing a multifunction machine that can print, scan and produce copies.
If you occasionally have more specialized printing needs, paying for printing at an office supply store may be more economical than buying an expensive printer. And if you do need a high-end printer, consider whether it would be more economical to lease instead of buying. Leasing avoids a large up-front capital outlay, leasing costs are tax deductible in the year the expense is incurred, and leased copiers are easier to upgrade as technology changes. And when a leased copier breaks, the leasing company will take care of repairs.
Scanners and Faxes
A good scanner is the cornerstone of a “paperless” office that relies heavily on digital files and electronic communications. Going paperless can save you money by reducing the amount you spend on office supplies, postage and storage space.
When shopping for a scanner, consider how many documents you will be scanning, how often you will be scanning, and who will be performing this task. Depending on your answers to these questions, it may make sense to invest in desktop scanners for certain employees or a central scanner that can handle a high volume of documents.
An all-in-one printer/copier/scanner is another option. However, read reviews about the scanning capability and ease of use for the machines you are considering. All-in-ones do not always scan as seamlessly as a dedicated scanner.
A few industries, including the medical field, still rely heavily on faxes, but most businesses have little need for a standalone fax machine. To give your business the flexibility to send faxes when it needs to, consider a multifunction machine that can fax as well as print and copy. Or, sign up for an online fax service that provides you with a fax number and allows you to send and receive faxes electronically.
Tablets and Smartphones
Tablet technology continues to develop at a rapid pace, and these devices can handle everything from video conferencing to on-site estimates and invoices to payment processing. You may even decide to use smartphones as your primary employee phone lines. Features to consider include processing power, battery life, and durability.
When shopping for smartphones, compare providers to find the best rates and look into bulk discounts. Make sure to choose a phone and data provider that offers a strong cell phone signal in your office and in the areas where your employees are likely to be. To maximize functionality, choose phones and tablets that are compatible with your office computers.
Power outages and fluctuations are two prime causes of data loss, and a power surge can actually damage computers.
To avoid this disaster, purchase an uninterruptable power supply, or UPS. A UPS functions much like a surge protector, with several electrical outlets that plug into a single wall outlet. But a UPS monitors and regulates the flow of power and includes a backup battery that keeps the power flowing to your devices for several minutes when there is an outage. That gives you time to save files and properly shut down equipment.