Planning for the future makes sense, but it does have its limits.
Ever had a conversation with someone about a potential IT purchase, and they bring up the matter of ‘future proofing’? On the face of it, it seems like a valid point of discussion: how will your new technology perform in the years to come? But think about future proofing with any real conviction, and you’ll realise it’s often not a particularly helpful concept.
When buying new IT equipment, businesses naturally want to get as much value for their money as possible. Technology can be a high-cost investment, so it makes sense to buy IT solutions that will continue to be useful for a long time. This is where future proofing is meant to help. By planning ahead and buying the right technology, you’re led to believe that you can avoid the problem of obsolescence.
Such an aim is impossible to achieve. Technology, by its very nature, changes and advances constantly, so there will always come a time when your IT becomes too outdated to be useful or secure.
Proponents of future proofing will – rightfully – point out that it’s not about making technology that is perpetually up to date, but rather maximising the value of investment. That’s a reasonable view to take if it means not buying into a technology that you know to be on its last legs. For example, there would be little point buying Windows 7 right now, because it’s an end-of-life product, which has already been superseded by Windows 8 and 10. By the same token, Windows 8 isn’t worth buying, because extended support for it ends in 2023. Conclusion: get Windows 10.
The problem is when future proofing is used as a way to justify buying the newest – and usually most expensive – IT solutions. No, you shouldn’t cut corners when it comes to your IT, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to buy the latest, greatest of everything.
Let’s say you run an accountancy firm, and you need a few desktop PCs for your team. They’re going to be running Office 365, Opera 3 and other basic apps like web browsers and telephony services. Now you could 'future proof' these computers by getting them all Intel i7 processors – top-end chips favoured by gamers and other high-demand users – and decades from now, those processors are still going to be perfectly fine for the kind of work your team are doing.
But chances are if you bought cheaper processors for these computers now and then upgraded them to more powerful ones in the future, the combined cost would be less than you initially paid for the i7s.
Of course, if you need the very best technology to run your business, then you should buy it, but you should still be wary of future proofing. Why? Because you might be tempted by some brand new technology, which promises great things and looks like it might be around for a while, but which eventually fails to take hold.
For example, had you invested heavily in laptops with FireWire when it first became available, you would have found it to be quite pricey, but now it’s practically obsolete, having failed to replace USB as the world’s favourite connectivity standard (arguably, FireWire was designed for slightly different things and was replaced by Thunderbolt, but you get the point). In the consumer tech market, early adopters of Betamax video players would have benefitted from superior visual reproduction, but ultimately their expensive A/V equipment would become little more than a fancy paperweight, having been beaten by the cheaper VHS system.
So if future proofing doesn’t work or isn't worth it, how should you approach IT purchases? In a couple of ways. Firstly, when it comes to hardware, you should carefully assess your requirements before committing to anything. It makes sense to buy something slightly better than you need, but don’t go crazy and blow your IT budget on a supercomputer; you want your technology to be good enough to last a few years, but bear in mind you'll need to upgrade periodically. You may need an IT audit or a consultancy session to accurately assess your current technology and decide what’s best for your business.
With software and services, the solution is more straightforward: subscription-based IT. Companies that sign up with Microsoft 365, for example, get both Windows 10 and Office 365, each of which is perpetually up to date. Similarly, TMB’s managed services include anti-virus and backup and disaster recovery, and we take on the responsibility of keeping these solutions up to date. The result is that unlike other IT solutions, these services can be considered truly future proof.