Refurbished IT: A saviour for stretched resources

Bill Champness, Managing Director of Hardware Associates, dispels some of the myths surrounding refurbished IT

It’s that time of year where many of you, bursars, head teachers and heads of departments, start to look at resourcing and spend. With schools facing increased costs amounting to 4.5% due to pay rises, National Insurance contributions and pension deficits, it’s no wonder that more than 90% of 1,000 head teachers surveyed by the ASCL say that their finances are going to be critically under pressure for 2015/2016*. And it’s likely that you’re asking yourself where can you possibly rob Peter to pay Paul?

As a business owner for the last 17 years, I get it. How can I improve our service while keeping our staff happy and give them the right tools for the job? AND, as a father of two I also get the need to provide our children with the very best to assist with their learning. But what I don’t understand is the reaction I get from many head teachers when I mention refurbished hardware. The look of distaste at the sheer mention of refurbished is as if some joker has put salt in your coffee – not just offered you four refurbished PCs for the price of one brand new one! A saving which, let’s put it frankly, would mean you no longer have to keep juggling your resources.

ABOVE: Bill Champness, Managing Director of Hardware Associates

So why is ‘refurbished’ such a dirty word? Let me explain what we in the hardware industry mean by refurbished and dispel some of the myths.

Refurbed – not such a dirty word

Sadly it seems that educational budget cuts are inevitable. The Institute of Fiscal Studies estimates that schools in the UK will face up to 12% real term cuts over the next Parliament while forecasts suggest pupil numbers will increase by 7%, a result of rising immigration and higher birth rates over the next five years. With a lot of rapidly diminishing funds being ring-fenced for more important things such as paying for teaching staff and replacing those leaving at the end of the academic year, priorities such as new desktop PCs move further down the list. However, keeping your ICT running is vital for learning opportunities. And for tech savvy students, having access to these resources is an absolute must. 

It doesn’t take a mathematician to see the obvious savings in purchasing refurbished PCs rather than brand new ones. For example, the cost of one brand new Dell Optiplex is £300 – you can get four of those same machines for £300 by simply switching your purchasing preferences to refurbished instead.

Sometimes refurbished laptops and PCs haven’t even been taken out of the box, or they might have been taken out, looked at and put back, barely handled at all. As Gizmodo.com recently highlighted, “An analysis of outlet stores and other refurb dealers reveals that ‘refurbished’ laptops that have been used are most likely returns that have been in circulation 30 days or less.”
 The reason it is then referred to as ‘refurbished’ is that with any hardware return, regardless of fault it has to be legally sold as a ‘return’ or a second. So you could actually be getting a brand new bit of kit but for 50% or more of the original price. 

Refurbished hardware also means that if you have your mind set on a particular brand but the spec you want is out of your price range you can think again. Often you’ll find reconditioned products as at fraction of the original price. We’ve helped many schools save as much as 80% on laptop and desktop spend. When you think the average laptop costs within the region of £500-£1,000 and most refurb models sell for £100 upwards, you’ll be making a significant saving.

Also don’t be lured into a false sense of security by ‘new’ always being best – cheaper commercial laptops might enable you to save money but they are developed with gaming or light surfing in mind, not as education workhorses. Business desktops and laptops are more durable, have multiple port connections, include more security features and contain fewer unwanted preinstalls, such as games.

Which leads on to my next point – how new is new? So maybe you do really want the newest model and you don’t want to compromise by getting an earlier refurb. Well, if you hang around a little bit, you could get exactly what you want at a much better price. HP and Dell both report very quick turnaround times for their refurbished goods, meaning you may only wait 3-6 months before your desired hardware crops up on a refurbished seller site. Now how annoying would it be if you bought brand new machines and three months later they’re ridiculously cheap. Sometimes it simply pays to wait.  

The two to three year itch?

So some of you reading this will recognise this conundrum – every few years, many IT departments get that familiar itch, it’s an itch to replace older desktops and hardware for sleeker new models with higher processing powers, impressive looks and better software. Normally it’s a challenge associated with businesses with deeper pockets and not education but we have seen it in schools too. But stop and think for a minute – what are the implications of dumping these systems, and do you really need to? Or are you just following the IT crowd? 

Every year, we in the UK throw away an estimated 2 million tonnes of electrical waste or e-waste. (Outlaw.com). It’s a problem that’s growing exponentially world-wide with 50 million tonnes of e-waste generated last year – that’s over 7kg for every person on the planet! 
(The Guardian.com, Dec 2013)

Environmentally, if computer hardware is just dumped in landfill, it can have wide-reaching effects with electronic goods containing toxic substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic. The WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronics Equipment) Regulations aim to stop some of the needless chucking of old computer equipment into landfills. This puts the onus on the ‘producer’, meaning that the manufacturer/distributor or reseller of the technology must take back and dispose of safely, or recycle the computer components through designated collection facilities.

But as e-waste is growing at three times the rate of any other rubbish, it’s time that we took a step back and thought – do we really need to dump this? And at time when the younger generation seem to go through devices faster than hot meals surely it’s time to demonstrate not only some ethical but also some savvy behaviour when it comes to IT and budgets.

Think about the reasons you’re throwing away your old IT equipment. Is it because it has served its time or because new and shinier ones have caught your eye? Cliff Saran made the case that you could be disposing of old computers with years of use still left in them: “…thanks to Moore’s Law, the processing power of PCs – even those three or more years old – is easily adequate for running desktop productivity and non-CPU-intensive business applications on Windows… there is little need for businesses to use high-performance machines that harness the latest in PC technology if they only browse the web and use email.”
(Cliff Saran, Gartner, January 2013). 

It might be smarter and more financially rewarding to keep the old workhorses going by extending their lifecycles, until such time as they’re no longer useful. We’ve also worked with many IT departments that replace individual computers as needed rather than working to the ‘replace all’ concept that many subscribe to. 

So as you can see refurbed doesn’t mean antiquated, tatty, abused and battered bits of hardware. It means reconditioned laptops, desktops, tablets and spares that are re-engineered for longevity. It also means that whatever your budget you can be sure to deliver more for your school, your team of hardworking staff and most importantly, for your students, without having to make any unnecessary cuts.

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