How many years should you get out of PC’s?

Software drives hardware….or, is it the other way around? It changes in terms of which one is the driver. Regardless, it seems advances in both are slowing down a bit.  Useful life on computers seems to be getting longer, which is good for CPA firm budgets. While users may want a new, sleeker, thinner laptop, the fact is a 3-4 year old machine should serve most accountants very well.

I remember my first “real” computer. It was during college in 1991, a second hand purchase off my older brother. A Toshiba T2000SX running MS-DOS 4.01. Vivid memories abound of writing papers using WordPerfect 5.1, back when blue screens were a good thing. This is back when laptops were just that – you needed your lap just to support the weight. While at the time, I thought I was a high-roller with such a great computer, that machine was not far away from being a boat anchor in great technology race of the 90’s.
For my purposes though, it worked just fine. It lasted all the way through college for me. Soon after graduation I entered the business world and saw how the life cycle of the computer lessened as the rapid growth of software required more powerful equipment to drive it. In the early 2000’s, there were firms that had 1-2 year lifecycles. Later in the decade, it seemed like 3 years was a standard. For our firm, we moved to 4 years just recently. Is it working? I’d say so. Maintenance on the “moving parts” of the PC – those items more apt to break (fans, power supplies and hard drives) might need replacing after 3, but everything else would take you to 4 years and beyond. The beyond for us was 5 years for some older laptops for certain roles at our firm (Sorry Interns – we’ll upgrade you later). 
I’m sure the debate will rage – since the billable hour drives our business, shouldn’t we get newer, faster machines to make our employees more efficient? Often, this is a matter of subjective judgment. If your firm were to get new computers for all staff every 6 months, I’d bet you would get requests for new computers soon after each roll out.  Many users lose that perspective of just how fast their computers are to the ones “back in the day”. 
P.S. My first computer was a Timex Sinclair, hooked up to the T.V. and ran Basic. In today’s terms, it was good for…..very little. But was it ever cool at the time.

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Jim Fahey is COO of Apple Growth Partners, a regional CPA firm in Ohio. His focus is on the effective and efficient use of technology within the firm by all team members.  He is also in charge of talent management and retention at his firm.  A background of IT and Human Resources helps Jim bridge the gap of technology complexities with end users who just want their computer to work so they can be chargeable.  Being a very cheap (frugal sounds better) person himself, he is always looking for ways to save dollars at his firm.  He is Director of Education for the Association for Accounting Administration and past Technology Committee member of the Ohio Society of CPA's.  He often leads industry CPE events on the topics of Information Technology, CPA firm practice management and human resources/recruiting. Find out more about Jim on LinkedIn.

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