Top tips to extend the life of IT equipment

In BESA’s annual resources in UK maintained schools survey for the academic year 2014‑15, we spoke to 900 head teachers in order to gauge their budgets and expenditure. Their responses showed that when looking specifically at expenditure on computing and ICT (excluding learning content), primary schools in 2014/15 appear to have spent 5.8 per cent more, while secondary schools stated an even more significant increase of 8.2 per cent. This rise appears to be continuing, with primary schools forecasting a further increase in expenditure in 2015/16 of 4.9 per cent.
Bearing in mind the high proportion of expenditure on computer hardware and peripherals, we asked our members to share their advice and experience on extending the life of these products and optimising their value. We have summarised these in ten top tips for getting the greatest return on investment from your computers.

Maintenance and support
The temptation in many schools is to cut costs by not investing in maintenance and support. However, in the long run this can result in a higher total cost of ownership.
As Stuart Graham, managing director at Clarity in Sound Light and Vision explains: “Most people service their cars at regular intervals to avoid a more expensive fault occurring, yet schools often fail to take our maintenance contracts out on their computers. For a small charge, based on a three-year contract, schools are visited at least once a year to clean, service and, where required, carry out portable appliance testing (PAT) of the equipment.”

Another BESA member Arik Fletcher, senior engineer at Joskos Solutions, adds to Stuart’s advice: “Keeping a PC clean and well-ventilated is an important part of prolonging its life. Dust builds-up on a PC’s inside and excessive heat will significantly reduce its performance and eventually reduce its lifespan.”
He also suggests: “Because desktop PCs are relatively easy to open up and clean, a can of compressed air is all that is needed to remove the dust inside. This should be done every six months between services.”
Stefanie Tyler, contracts manager at KCS Professional Services, reminds us that maintenance should also include keyboards and mice: “Banging your mouse or keyboard when it isn’t working does not help and will just lead to broken or ineffective equipment. Also, don’t forget surge protection. What can seem just an inconvenient power cut can become a major incident if a power surge renders your equipment useless.”

Real and virtual cleaning
It is not only real cleaning that needs to be carried out. Virtual cleaning, in terms of data and security, is also a vital consideration for getting the most from your computer.
Rebecca Hamer of Exa Education explains: “In the same way that over time grime builds up on surfaces, a computer can become filled with programs and applications that may have been inadvertently installed, or are simply no longer needed. It is therefore advisable that you check your computer’s task manager to view which processes are in use and compare this with the programs installed on the machine to ensure that the only ones present are those you require and have authorised.
“Once this has been done, it is possible to use your school’s Active Directory to implement rules that allow you to control the usage rights of each computer. This allows schools to specify and install the programs that are to be present on every machine, and remove an individual’s ability to download any additional software.”

Anti-virus protection
Rebecca also reminds us: “Internet security is something that requires continuous attention. In 2014, more than 317 million new pieces of malware, computer viruses or other malicious software were created. As a result of these ever-evolving threats, the solution you have in place to protect your school’s machines must be the most effective and up-to-date version available.
“There are several Unified Threat Management (UTM) systems available. A UTM appliance consolidates a number of security services into one, so that you are simultaneously protected from a number of threats.”

Readiness Assessment and Digital resources audit
Our fourth piece of cost saving advice is offered by Neil Watkins, of WCL Ltd and provider of E2BN’s Think IT service to schools and colleges. He says: “It is important that schools understand what is the right ICT solution for their specific requirements. This should not be about price, nor about the set products that a managed service provider supplies, but about what is right for the school. It is so important to start by focusing on the outcomes that the school wants for its pupils, staff, parents and governors, and then provide advice and guidance on what ICT will achieve these objectives. This is done through what we call a Readiness Assessment Audit (RAA).

Mark Orchison, group managing director of 9ine Consulting, also contributes: “By performing a digital resource audit you can identify the exact type of curriculum applications that are used. In completing this exercise, you can then assess whether there are any web based applications that provide the same functionality as a locally PC installed application. In turn, the log-on times and general speed of your PC will improve.”

Operating Systems
Mark also steps into the world of Windows operating systems and summarises the benefits that Windows 7 and Windows 10 offer schools.
He says: “Windows 7 is a lot better than any previous versions of Windows. Consequently, there is little need to replace your older PCs to run these new operating systems. In a number of cases our school clients are using PCs that are seven years old and still perfectly running Windows 7. However, when using older machines you will need to check your active directory and group policies to ensure they are efficiently configured.
“Windows 10 has just been launched and provides the ability to authenticate users to servers in the cloud. By taking a holistic approach to your systems and adopting

Windows 10, you will be able to reduce you capital investment in local servers, potentially saving tens of thousands of pounds.”
Additionally, you can get the best from your Internet experience by upgrading your web browser to the latest version, advises Leigh Foley, marketing manager at EducationCity.
Leigh continues: “We encourage all our customers to update their browsers, not only for increased security against viruses, but also so that they can get the most reliable performance out of our product. This advice applies to all online resource that might be used in the school.”

Customisation and Updates
Seb Francis, of Titus Learning, advises that Schools should consider how flexible their current system is.
He says: “Are there free plug-ins, add‑ons and apps? Can you customise your system to ensure your changing requirements are met? These are important points to be considered before deciding if the system is right for your needs.
“It is surprising the amount of schools we speak to who are using a particular software, only to find they’re not on the latest version. Sometimes it’s years old! To ensure you’re getting the most out of your system, and before you consider switching, make sure you’re on the very latest version available.”

Invest in CPD and training
BESA regularly reminds schools of the power of good training and continuing professional development. Much of the functionality and potential of hardware and software can be lost if schools are not aware of its potential. So our seventh tip is to always negotiate training with your supplier.

John Graham of ICT Direct offers his advice, by reminding schools to take out good warranties. He says: “These are very important to ensure any problems you may encounter are dealt with quickly and efficiently, and to make sure your equipment remains in the best condition for an extended period of time. Good suppliers, including ourselves, offer two years free warranty with all computers which can be extended to five years at a nominal cost.”

Invest in the best
One consistent and very effective way to extend the life of your computer products is, of course, to invest in high quality reliable equipment. However, as John Graham of ICT Direct recognises, many schools assume this just isn’t affordable. “Actually, if you’re very clever about your purchasing decision it doesn’t necessarily need to be expensive,” he explains.
“ICT Direct purchases high quality business computer equipment from manufacturers such as HP, Dell and Lenovo, refurbish it to a very high standard and sell it onto schools at a fraction of its original price. The PCs, servers, workstations, monitors and tablets are a far higher specification than you would find in your standard computer shop and will last substantially longer.”

Solid State drives
Finally, Arik Fletcher, senior engineer from Joskos Solutions, offers our final piece of advice: “Apart from the well-known route of upgrading a PC’s RAM, replacing its hard-drive with a new-generation solid-state drive is a cost-effective way of significantly improving its performance and extending its useful lifespan.”
This summary of advice from some of the industry’s suppliers, who understand the specific needs to schools and colleges, should be useful to all schools. We hope these simple measures save you time and money and improve the efficiency of your ICT infrastructure.

Further Information