No matter how advanced technology gets, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that it won’t last forever. Your staff’s machines will begin to show signs of slowness after about 3 years. After 5, you’ll be lucky if they’re running anywhere close to full capacity. Your servers will start generating more alerts. Your warranties will expire.
You’ll have to make plans for a large-scale IT upgrade project.
When these kinds of projects start making their way onto your association’s radar, one of the first questions to come to mind is this: how can I keep this capital expense as low as I possibly can?
This is a logical question to ask, and it’s one that we’ve heard over and over again from our association clients over the past two decades. Unfortunately, though, the idea of saving money on IT upgrades is actually a rather complex animal.
Here’s the thing: when you’re talking about saving on your IT upgrades, there are two very distinct areas you need to consider: short-term expenditures, and long-term costs. In most cases, there is often a give-and-take—cutting immediate out-of-pocket costs too drastically often results in costly losses of productivity down the line, and saving in the long run often demands higher up-front investments.
Let’s explore a few hypothetical scenarios to demonstrate how different decisions can end up affecting your association and its ability to serve your members.
Scenario 1: Association Management System (AMS) Upgrade
A Maryland-based trade association needs to upgrade their AMS to a new software package. Rather than consulting with an outside technology provider, the association has their internal team choose the software that they think will best suit their needs.
- Short-Term: The association avoids around $6,000 in consulting fees, and instead invests a few weeks of off-and-on staff research in order to select their software package.
- Long-Term: 6 months down the road, staff members are still not able to leverage the AMS to serve their members. The CRM is difficult to search, outbound communications are far from intuitive, support is lacking, and website integration is partial and ineffective. The association loses time and reputation on a consistent, daily basis.
Scenario 2: Data Backup Upgrade
A Virginia-based professional association knows they need to protect and back up their member data. Still, they opt for a lower-level cloud-based file backup solution that costs $0.50/GB of data, rather than the more comprehensive disaster recovery solution at $3/GB.
- Short-Term: The association enjoys a low monthly invoice for their backup, and doesn’t experience any trouble recovering lost files.
- Long-Term: The server that hosts their primary database crashes. Since their solution is the low-level backup option, the organization needs to order a new server, have it shipped, and then upload their data from a hard drive that is shipped separately from their provider’s datacenter. The process—even expedited—takes 3 days, during which the association was largely unable to serve its members in any capacity.
Scenario 3: Server Upgrade
A 50-person association has two servers that are teetering on their end-of-life. Rather than proceeding with an upgrade project, they chose to move their entire network to a cloud environment.
- Short-Term: The association has a one-time $10,000 data migration project to pay for, and invests around $9,000 each month in cloud desktops—more than they were paying previously for managed services on an ongoing basis.
- Long-Term: Rather than investing $40,000 of capital every 4 years in a server upgrade project, the institute has no servers to maintain, has significantly extended the life of their workstations, and simply pays their predictable ongoing monthly fees.
As you can see, choosing the right path with your IT upgrade is a fairly complex and strategic undertaking; rather than simply cutting your up-front investment, you have to take into account how IT affects your overall operations. The main questions to ask yourself is this:
How critical are your IT systems to the advancement of your mission?
If your association could not serve its members without the help of your technology (which most cannot), you need to do the best you can to focus your efforts on getting a good return on your investments, not just shaving money off of your invoices.
If, however, you could accomplish the majority of your daily tasks without even logging into a computer, you’ll do just fine by putting the absolute minimum amount of money into your upgrades (from the devices you buy to the support packages you subscribe to).
All in all, make sure you take the time to explore all of the benefits and risks before you make any big decision regarding your technology—not a one of us can afford not to.