Making the Most of Less


Refurbished Technology Provides a Sensible Way to Deal With Ongoing Budget W'es

Saar Pikar, Sales Manager, CDIRiddles are time-honored educational tools used to entertain students while teaching them the value of critical thinking. They often require the kind of outside-the-box inductive and deductive reasoning that is so valued in the business world today. Now, those same educators who talk about two coins adding up to 35 cents are being presented with their own riddle by the state and federal governments. And solving it isn’t just a matter of pride; it’s a question of survival.

The No Child Left Behind Act and numerous movements demanding “adequate” spending to equalize education for students are pressuring schools nationwide to greatly increase the amount of technology available to students in everyday classrooms. Adding to the pressure, colleges are expecting students to enter with a certain level of office document and Internet searching skills. Many employers are seeking these same skills from those entering the workforce as well.

At the same time, however, state budget cuts have made less funding available for schools in general, limiting the amount of new technology that can be acquired. Total education spending per capita, as a percentage of the gross domestic product, is lower now than in the 1960s, according to the Education Commission of the States. Four years of a down economy make it even more difficult than usual to obtain funding for technology initiatives. Voters worried about salary cuts or losing their jobs are reluctant to pay another nickel in property taxes if they can avoid it.

The solution to this riddle of how to acquire more technology on a limited budget is one that’s often overlooked: used and refurbished corporate computing equipment. The fact is that districts can double or triple the amount of computer equipment they purchase by going with used rather than new gear. So why don’t they?

There are a number of reasons: some based on past facts, others on preconceived notions that buying anything but new gear puts the district in a bad light. Let’s examine the perceptions versus the realities of used and refurbished equipment so school boards, administrators, technology committees and educators can make more informed decisions.

Perception 1: Used = Old and Obsolete

At one time this was mostly true. Many of the first computers in a school district were donations from families who upgraded their home computers. But huge technology jumps, such as the move from DOS to Windows or from the Apple IIe to the Macintosh, made those donations inadequate for any practical use.

New vs. Refurbished PCs: What's the Better Deal?

Today, however, there is a well-established secondary market for used computer equipment. While Moore’s Law (i.e., processing power will double every 18 months) is still in effect, for many operations such as word processing, e-mail and Internet searches, it has reached the point of diminishing returns. Large corporations that use graphic-intensive programs or do a lot of number crunching have a continuing need to upgrade roughly every three years. Yet the equipment they’re replacing is more than up to the task of word processing, working with spreadsheets, creating presentations and surfing the Internet. It’s also well-suited for running education-specific programs, both academic and administrative.

True, you won’t have a screaming fast Pentium 4 unit with a 2.4 GHz processor. But you will have one with a Pentium III
733 MHz processor, and more than enough hard drive space for an entire year’s worth of projects. Actually, make that two or three for every P4 unit you would have bought.

Perception 2: Used = No Warranty

The validity of this perception depends on the source from which you acquire the technology. If you deal with a company or reseller that specializes in the secondary equipment market, you could actually come out ahead on the warranty.

Consider that a new computer or monitor generally comes with a one-year warranty. If something g'es wrong during that period, you generally have to pack up the unit and ship it back to the manufacturer for repairs. In the meantime, you’re out that unit.

With a computer refurbished by a specialist company, however, you often have a longer warranty period. For example, CDI offers a three-year warranty on PCs and monitors, which is the normal length of time before the next upgrade. This means that the unit is under warranty throughout its useful life. In addition, most specialists will provide an exact replacement unit immediately if there’s a problem, so your institution is always at its full-computing strength.

Perception 3: Used=Not Enough Volume

In the past, districts looking to add hundreds or thousands of PCs at a time have shied away from used gear, assuming that the volume of same-type units isn’t available. But this is no longer true. When large corporations do an upgrade they usually buy in the thousands. When it’s time to replace that gear, they replace them in the thousands as well. Thus, specialists who help corporations dispose of their old gear acquire it in the thousands. This gives them more than enough inventory for even the largest districtwide purchases. And since these corporations often purchase brand-name equipment, those are the brands stocked in volume by the used-equipment specialists.

Perception 4: Used = Someone Else’s Troubles

There are a lot of sources for used equipment. Some do a good job in preparing their units for resale, while others do only a cursory job. That’s why it’s important to know the companies you’re buying from and what process they follow to refurbish the units.

A quality supplier of used equipment will take every unit apart and clean it inside and out. While there may be a few blemishes, it shouldn’t appear dirty or worn. For a PC or notebook, the hard drive shouldn’t just be reformatted once. It should be scrubbed thoroughly to remove any residual data using programs designed specifically for that purpose.

Every circuit board, keyboard, mouse and other component should be carefully tested and certified that it meets the original manufacturer’s specifications. Monitors should be tested and certified for brightness, clarity and color range, again according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Every unit should have a serial number, along with an indication that it has passed a complete inspection.

The bottom line is that the unit should perform as well as - or better than - it did when it was new. In fact, if you don’t say it’s refurbished, the user shouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Combine that with the longer warranty period and you’re assured of a performance that makes you look smart, not just thrifty.

Stretching Budget Dollars

At a time when the need for technology is growing exponentially and funding for it is frozen or shrinking, used equipment provides a sensible way to solve the riddle. It allows school districts to purchase two to three times the amount of equipment as new gear, helping stretch thin budget dollars much further. In addition, working with a supplier that specializes in educational customers removes the perceived risks long associated with used equipment, making it a viable, quality alternative to more expensive new technology. For many districts, it’s the right answer to their continuing technology budget w'es.

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This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.