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Saving Money at the Computer Mall

March 9, 2007

© 2007 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine

How do you feel when a friend or colleague tells you they just bought the same product you did for considerably less?  If you’re like me, you probably feel kind of crummy, but then justify why you still got a better deal than your friend.

How do you buy technology for less?  Are there ways to save?  Are there times when spending more is better?  Let’s talk about it.

Hardware — Box vs OEM
Hardware comes in two varieties: locally built and OEM (original equipment from a manufacturer; name brands like Apple, HP, and Dell).  OEM computers often deliver slightly lower capabilities even though they sometimes cost more to purchase, so why would anyone want one?  One reason is that locally built systems (sometimes referred to as box systems because their parts are bought in boxes and assembled into a computer), although often having more capabilities, often have hidden costs.

OEM manufacturers have usually been in business for a long time, thus their name recognition.  They strive for carefully protected reputations, and usually set aside significant budgets for R&D (research and development).  R&D:

  • Develops new technologies and improves existing technologies;
  • Ensures conformance to any applicable government rules and regulations;
  • Ensures that each component is compatible— and will work well— with the other components used; and
  • Ensures customer satisfaction (based on design and service) that will produce customer loyalty and increase sales.

Let’s see how these points affect the design of the computer you buy.

Government Rule & Regulation Conformity
Government agencies have set standards which affect computer safety and performance.  These are primarily in the areas of electrical usage and component radiation shielding.

Radiation shielding can protect computers from intermittently failing due to heat or frequency emissions that make components behave unpredictably.  This kind of shielding can also provide users with a greater margin of personal safety from radio wave radiation.

Component Compatibility
R&D helps OEM manufacturers improve component compatibility.  In our consulting with many ministries around the country, we’ve seen many box computers in which the builder meticulously chose high quality components.  Even with the best of intentions and components, however, these machines often have intermittent problems which are seemingly untraceable, yet may be due to minor incompatibilities within.

Customer Satisfaction
This is an area obviously common to builders of box and OEM systems.  Both want high customer satisfaction that will increase customer loyalty and sales.  OEM builders usually allocate more to ensure computers are built right in the first place (R&D), and that the customer will get fast service when necessary.

Many OEM manufacturers offer next-day on-site repair of their systems.  This is a huge time and money saver, and also helps ensure that no one on the ministry staff needs to be a hardware technician.

How to Buy
When shopping for technology or any major purchase, always follow Nick’s Four Rules of Wise Shopping:

  1. Plan ahead.  By planning ahead, you:Avoid buying on impulse.
    • Buy in quantities, saving money two ways:
      • Buying in quantity often saves on the cost per item; and
      • Buying in quantity means less shopping trips, saving time— and time spent comes out of the personnel budget.
    • Take advantage of seasonal pricing and sales.  Coinciding your technology purchase with the manufacturer’s quarterly or fiscal year-end can often save you money.  However, it is rarely wise to buy close-out or manufacturer-discontinued items or refurbished systems.
    • Take your time.  Because you won’t feel pressured to make a fast purchase, you’ll be able to spend more time researching, making sure you’re buying the best product for your church.
  2. Be informed; buy smart.  When buying something also used by a professional trade, ask a member of that trade what they would look for if it was their purchase.  For instance, a landscaper can tell you which lawnmower gives the most even cut with the least amount of maintenance.  More than that, the tradesman can even tell you where the best buys are.  This is true with computers too.
  3. Don’t make the issue of church membership or faith a first condition when shopping.  Many in ministry feel strongly that they should purchase from church members or Christians whenever possible.  However, consider the following:
    • We in ministry need opportunities to build natural bridges with unbelievers.  What better time to model integrity and earn the right to share the gospel than when dealing with our vendors?
    • If something goes wrong or the product is faulty, it is much easier to resolve the issue if the vendor is outside the church.  This helps avoid building up bitterness/ill feelings among our flock or staff.
    • If the problem is not cooperatively redeemable, we are told in Scripture not to take our brother to court.  But we are not given this restriction with unbelievers.
  4. Always get three bids unless there aren’t three providers of the product or service available.  Although at times it may feel like an exercise in futility, this rule will help towards wise stewardship.  You’ll be able to objectively negotiate a price that is reasonable for both parties.  And don’t be afraid to ask for a lower price or for something to be thrown in.  You’ll be surprised how often you hear, “Yes.”

Special Savings for Ministries
Consistent Computer Bargains (800/342-4222) has helped create the not-for-profit licensing model that many software publishers now offer for tax exempt ministries to purchase their software at a tremendous discount.  Call them and ask for a price list.

Also, our firm has made arrangements for ministries to purchase Dell systems at a discount.  To take advantage of that discount, you need to contact Daniel Wacaster at Dell (his direct line is 615/795-8503) and tell him you were referred by our firm, Ministry Business Services.  He even has our recommended specs on file if you’d like to know what we recommend.

The Bottom Line
A study was conducted to discover what influenced computer buyers most.  First-time buyers rated price as their number one priority, and service as number four.  Second-time buyers rated service as number one, price as number nine!

In thinly staffed ministry offices where deadlines abound, budget is always an important consideration.  Remember, however, that stress and downtime are also costly items, especially if you’ve lost data in the process.  The bottom line is:  reliability must enter into the equation when considering what computer to buy.  Second-time computer buyers have often learned the hard way that reliability is worth a great deal.

When shopping for a new computer, keep these issues in mind.  And follow Nick’s Four Rules of Wise Shopping.  These will go a long way towards getting your ministry reliable computer systems.

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