Refurb and renew

There is a way to make IT purchases much more affordable: refurbished hardware. Bill Champness, MD of Hardware Associates, explains all

As 2015 draws to a close, many of you will be considering resource budgets for the forthcoming year. The chances are that it’s not a pretty picture. National Insurance, pension contributions, wages and inflation will raise costs by about 4.5% this year; and a pre-election report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that schools face cuts of up to 12% in real terms by 2020, once the increase in student numbers is factored in.

Parental and government expectations are steadily increasing, yet a recent ASCL survey found that almost 90% of school leaders expect financial pressures to have a detrimental effect on education; and 70% anticipate that their budgets will be in a “very serious” or “critical” state this academic year. 

Given the situation, you’re probably thinking that this isn’t the time to upgrade your IT infrastructure. That’s understandable: students will always come first, and if you’re already making cuts, new computers aren’t going to seem like a priority. Of course, it’s not really optional: to be properly educated, all students must be taught to use ICT creatively and effectively; and school computers take a fair old beating from pupils, necessitating regular replacement and repair.  Furthermore, smart use of ICT in schools can deliver greater efficiencies and better academic outcomes. If your hardware isn’t up to it, you’re making the difficult job of providing quality education much harder. 

The good news is that there’s a fairly straightforward way to make this much more affordable: refurbished hardware. The maths is simple: get three or four refurbished computers for the price of one new one – savings of 70% or more. Yet, when the idea is suggested, many head teachers visibly recoil.  Clearly, there’s something distasteful about British schools buying second-hand, but why? 

Let’s be clear: this is not grotty, clapped-out equipment that has outlived its usefulness to a previous owner. Most refurbished computers are returns. Sometimes the original purchaser hasn’t even taken them out of the box, but the manufacturer is still legally required to sell them as seconds

The most likely reason is a lack of understanding of what we mean by refurbished kit. Let’s be clear: this is not grotty, clapped-out equipment that has outlived its usefulness to a previous owner. Most refurbished computers are returns. Sometimes the original purchaser hasn’t even taken them out of the box, but the manufacturer is still legally required to sell them as seconds. Returns happen for any number of reasons, but it isn’t usually a technical problem: a 2011 survey by Accenture found that only 5% of returned electronics were actually defective. In fact, there’s a good argument that refurbished gear is more likely to be in sound working order: new products have just rolled off a high volume assembly line, whereas all reconditioned equipment is subjected to a thorough examination by a qualified technician. As proof of the reliability, any decent supplier will offer at least a one-year guarantee on anything they supply. 

Another advantage is that most refurbished computers are business machines made by reputable manufacturers. Those who buy new on a tight budget often end up purchasing cheaper equipment from smaller companies, but these computers are built with light home use in mind, not as workhorses. They just don’t have the durability or longevity of the quality business brands.

Refurbished computers are the smart choice for the environment, too. The UK disposes of around 2 million tonnes of electrical waste every year, and this waste contains valuable (and toxic) metals, such as gold, cadmium, cobalt and mercury.  The EU’s Waste Electrical and Electronics Equipment (WEEE) directive is supposed to prevent most of this from ending up as landfill, but e-waste is still growing at three times the rate of other rubbish. Even if we do recycle some materials, manufacturing new products to replace the old adds to our carbon footprint and wastes energy.  Dumped equipment often has years of useful life left in it, and this is particularly true of computers, which are disposed of in favour of glossy new models when they’re still perfectly capable performers. 

Auditing your school’s IT using the mantra “spare, repair or refurbished” will help you to focus on what’s needed, as well as providing significant savings.  Here are our top five suggestions for getting the equipment you need without breaking the bank:

1. Save money with refurbished equipment
Budget cuts and restrictions on unit spending make refurbished computers a sound choice. Many cost under £100 – a saving of as much as 80% off equivalent new models.

2. Bank on names you can trust
It’s tempting to opt for cheap computers from lesser-known brands, but this can lead to problems further down the line, whether finding spares or sending it for repairs.  They may also be made with less robust components.  Refurbished systems from reliable brands are less likely to go wrong; and if they do, finding replacement parts is generally straightforward.

3. Find computer kit deals
Education buyers often shop around, and end up sourcing all of the elements (tower, monitor, mouse and keyboard) from different suppliers.  Save time and money with a deal that throws everything in: complete systems can cost as little as £120. 

4. Revamp your existing tech
Give existing hardware a new lease of life with refurbished spare parts and a little TLC. Searching suppliers online will return tens of thousands of spare parts, most of which can be supplied by the next day.  Simple upgrades can often provide a significant boost to performance at very little cost.

5. Repair old machines
Can’t work out why a school computer is out of order, but unwilling to consign it to the dustbin just yet?  Send it to refurbishing and repairs service.  If they can solve the problem, it will save your school the cost of having to recycle and replace unusable technology