How small businesses can effectively manage IT obsolescence

When your phone or laptop breaks, do you repair it or replace it? Often, planned obsolescence means that replacing a model with an upgrade is the cheaper option because replacement parts become difficult to source as the product gets older. While we can take the time to make these decisions with our personal technology and weigh up the options before purchasing, businesses must consider how to plan ahead to ensure IT is always up and running. Here Paul Holding, solutions architect at IT integration provider Ripley Solutions, explores IT obsolescence and the importance of obsolescence management.

Technology rarely lasts forever — critical components such as batteries, sensors and other components will degrade over time. To combat this, some hardware and software vendors have end-of-life policies for products, outlining when technology will reach the end of its intended lifespan. Businesses can then invest in newer, upgraded models to continue production.

While upgrades are easy to access, we often find that businesses want to stick to what they know — just like how you might be more likely to use your current phone for a bit longer because you know how to use it, even though the battery life is a lot shorter than it once was. However, if that equipment breaks down, it’s not always easy to find replacement parts, particularly when manufacturers discontinue a product and its parts or no longer provide security and maintenance services.

The impact of obsolescence

Technology can operate beyond its stated lifespan, but if businesses use the technology after this point, they must consider how it will impact daily operations. Once a part becomes obsolete, maintenance costs and total cost of ownership will increase as replacement components become harder to source.

Using obsolete equipment also increases the risk of unplanned downtime and cyber security attacks. If important IT or operational equipment breaks down unexpectedly it can lead to costly downtime where businesses may struggle to find support quickly. Additionally, if older IT equipment is no longer protected by manufacturers, hackers could exploit the vulnerability, infecting computers with malware.

Equipment also rarely works in isolation — one piece of faulty equipment will have knock-on effects on the rest of operations. Similarly, when upgrading older equipment, businesses might need to upgrade other systems to ensure all equipment is compatible.

Planning ahead

Obsolescence will always be a by-product of continuous technological advances. The best way to reduce cyber security and downtime risks is to prepare effectively and take proactive steps to manage obsolescence. With a proactive obsolescence management plan in place, businesses can track the lifespan of products and ensure that IT and operational technology are always protected, improving productivity and reducing costs.

To plan for the future, businesses should carry out an assessment of current infrastructure to understand the components of the IT and operational technology landscape and how these systems interact. Production managers should also look at how much they already spend on maintenance, whether downtime has occurred before and the end-of-life policies from equipment vendors.

Understanding the risks can also help businesses make more informed decisions about their equipment. Businesses should consider how the failure of a hardware or software component will impact operations, costs and reputation, and whether the equipment is compatible with the rest of the system. Additionally, if the equipment is very old, it could be possible that the only people trained on how to maintain the equipment have left the business, making it more difficult to fix an unexpected break down.

Once businesses understand this, they can mitigate the risks. IT and operational equipment rarely work in isolation, so businesses should always be aware of how a change in one area will impact the rest of the infrastructure.

Upgrades can be costly, so businesses should not assume that they have to invest in new equipment every time a component reaches the end of its lifespan. By assessing the role of the component and its availability, businesses can choose whether to purchase replacement parts in advance so they can repair the system or if they replace it in the future.

Effective obsolescence management can be a full-time job, requiring careful consideration to ensure all parts operate effectively. While larger businesses could benefit from an obsolescence manager, this isn’t always possible for smaller businesses. Instead, SMEs should focus on maintaining accurate data on equipment lifespans, availability of parts and software updates that protect cyber security. Smaller businesses can also benefit from working with a specialist, such as Ripley Solutions, that have the expertise in IT and operation technology to develop successful obsolescence management and digital transformation strategies.

When your phone model is discontinued, you can take your time to decide the next steps — businesses don’t have the same luxury when looking at hardware and software. Incorporating obsolescence management into maintenance plans enables companies to anticipate breakdowns, limiting downtime and reducing repair costs.

To discuss your specific obsolescence management needs, speak to the experts at Ripley Solutions.