Mobile devices: Upgrade checklist

Mobile upgrades, as I've discussed in part one and two of this series, can go a long way to extending the functionality and useful life of many mobile devices. But they're not to be taken lightly and must always be considered with both return on investment (ROI) and any associated risks in mind. Let me sum up my discussion and recommendations as follows:

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If it's working fine, meeting your operational and cost objectives, and otherwise not broken, then don't fix it. Upgrades make sense, as is almost always the case in business, only when there is a demonstrable and quantifiable return on investment. Measuring this ROI can be tough, though, and will depend upon your particular applications, industry and accounting practices. But the benefits of an upgrade must be understood before one is performed.

Don't undertake an upgrade without full knowledge of the risks involved. A lot of time and money is wasted every year on modifications to systems that either don't work, cause damage, or otherwise have negative value. Downtime while an upgrade gone awry is remedied (assuming it can be) is always expensive.

Buy products with upgrades and lifecycle plans in mind. Some upgrades, like a new wireless card, can be planned quite easily. But there's no point in upgrading a device that's due to be replaced in the near future.

Have a policy on upgrades and modifications. For example, I suggest that everyone in the organization understand that (a) IT resources belong to the company; (b) unauthorized changes and modifications, including installing unauthorized software, can have a major detrimental impact on both IT and the operations of the company; and (c) all upgrades require that ROI analysis I mentioned. Any decisions made with respect to the purchase of any upgrade must be made in concert with the overall IT policies and objectives that the enterprise has in place.

Limit notebook hardware upgrades to those that use external connectors – USB, FireWire, PC Card or ExpressCard. Memory upgrades may make sense in some cases, but some risk is involved. Anything else, especially hard-drive upgrades, is suspect.

Limit cell phone, smartphone and PDA upgrades to software only or, again, peripherals that can be easily added via built-in connectors (CF or SD slots, for example).

Finally, remember that upgrades are not the same as regular maintenance. Regular software updates are important to overall system integrity. A good cleaning now and then is always a good idea.

Mobile device upgrades
Mobile devices: Keeping up with the upgrades, part 1    

Mobile devices: Upgrade considerations, part 2  
And remember, no matter how much we love them or depend upon them, all IT products, especially mobile client devices, have a useful life and will depreciate to zero in a surprisingly short time. There always comes a time when any element of IT, hardware or software, outlives its usefulness and needs to go, regardless of how well it has served in the past. The typical three- to five-year refresh cycle for IT equipment exists not because IT departments like to buy new stuff (OK, I apologize, they do!) but rather because new equipment has superior performance and thus a better ROI. There's an element here that even a CFO can love -- the eventual obsolescence inherent in technology products gives us the opportunity to move over time to more efficient operations that are carefully aligned with the overall goals of the enterprise or organization.

A final point: Think about recycling those old PCs, cell phones and handhelds. They don't belong in landfills. And notebooks can often be recycled in a different fashion into very useful thin clients running LINUX (such as the very nice -- and free -- Unbuntu) and perhaps using the powerful -- and also free -- Virtual Network Computing to give an old machine access to new software at a rock-bottom price.

About the author: Craig Mathias is a principal with Farpoint Group, an advisory firm based in Ashland, Mass., specializing in wireless networking and mobile computing. The firm works with manufacturers, enterprises, carriers, government, and the financial community on all aspects of wireless and mobile. He can be reached at craig@farpointgroup.com.

This was first published in February 2008

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