Most New Software Systems Need New Computers

July 1, 2001
If it ain't broke, don't fix it, they say in the West Texas oil fields. The idea is that serviceable equipment already paid for usually remains serviceable

“If it ain't broke, don't fix it,” they say in the West Texas oil fields. The idea is that serviceable equipment already paid for usually remains serviceable and that spending money on it is a waste of time and resources. This may well apply to most mechanical equipment that continues to do its job with a minimum of attention.

The same cannot always be said for computers. Although many computer users resist new equipment because the computers in service seem to function satisfactorily, old, outdated, and poorly configured systems are a leading cause of information technology problems, according to Charles Arsenault, president of Arsenault Associates. Most food distribution firms and truckload carriers operate large mainframe computers to handle the bulk of their data management requirements. However, these same firms also own a sizable number of desktop systems for tasks such as maintenance management or fleet routing.

Arsenault Associates has been supplying fleet maintenance software since 1979. That was three years before IBM's introduction of the PC. Among current products are Dossier32 fleet maintenance software and 24/7 Fleet Online maintenance software service.

Mainframe computers usually are state-of-the-art and are upgraded regularly by custom software suppliers. Desktop computers sometimes get left behind as technology moves forward. When older equipment remains in service, users can experience a higher than necessary failure rate following installation of new software. A recent study shows that initial installation problems often are traceable directly to a computer previously used by another department or individual in a company.

Modern software requires a modern computer. New PCs cost so little that there is no reason to use “hand-me-downs” for such important tasks as maintenance management.

Giving someone a computer that may have been sitting on a shelf for who knows how long is a perfect formula for failure. Usually these leftover computers still hold the data, software, and all the operating problems associated with previous users, Arsenault says.

This is significant because up to a third of all maintenance management software installations fail to implement the program fully. In a worst-case scenario, management gives up and returns to manual recordkeeping.

Arsenault says that trucking software users fall into three basic categories. One-third of users actively operate the program daily and keep it up-to-date with the latest versions. A second third use the program for a single function and ignores the rest of the program capabilities. This group typically does not keep the program current. The final third might as well forget the computer exists. This is the group that fails to implement the system and that usually neglects to train more than one person to operate it.

Desktop computer troubles are frequently traceable to attempts to update older computers simply by removing old programs and cleaning off hard drives without verifying that the system has the memory and processor speed required for new software. On computers equipped with Windows 95 or subsequent, old programs should always be removed using the Remove Program function found in the Windows Control Panel. Removing programs simply by erasing the files from the hard disk creates more problems than it solves, because the erasure does not deal with the Windows Registry, Arsenault says.

Many modern programs make changes to the registry to facilitate operation. Windows consults the registry at system start-up to configure itself properly. If programs are erased with the registry entries remaining intact, Windows has problems. It seeks to load files that no longer exist on the hard drive.

For major software installations, start with a clean machine, if not a new one. The best solution is to buy a new computer, but if that isn't possible, make sure the used computer is properly configured and has enough memory and processor speed to handle modern software. These factors are essential for Internet technologies like online ASP services.

If any doubts exist about a computer, the best thing is to rebuild it. That means erasing the entire hard drive and starting over by installing the Windows operating system before application programs are installed. This is time consuming, but it assures properly configured software and smoother operation.

The best solution for changing desktop applications is new computers. They cost little compared to the expense of maintaining a mainframe. Spending a little money on a new system pays off quickly in enhanced productivity, Arsenault says.

About the Author

Gary Macklin

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