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Lies, damn lies, and statistics: Gartner PC cost/benefit analysis is fishy (first appeared in InfoWorld)

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Does anyone else find The Gartner Group annoying?

I’m reviewing its “PC Cost/Benefit and Payback Analysis.” The good news: I now understand the “Productivity Paradox.” It comes from Gartner’s inflated cost numbers.

The bad news: If Gartner is right, a lot of companies are spending far too much on some very basic items.

Example: Gartner’s average hardware cost per system totals nearly $5,000. I compared that with our costs. We use name-brand items: IBM ValuePoint 33-MHz 486 computers, SynOptics Communications Inc. concentrators, Compaq Computer Corp. file servers, and Novell Inc. networks. I can’t get our per-system cost above $3,500 no matter how hard I try.

Another example: Gartner uses a per-system average software cost of $1,000 for four applications per system. Companies with LANs load software from the file server on a concurrent-use basis. All in all, I think we spend about $300 per user on software. (I guess Gartner has never heard of discount software vendors — the Borland International Inc. Office bundle gives you word processing, spreadsheet and database applications for $300.)

So far, I’ve saved $2,200, or about 37 percent off Gartner’s estimate.

In the world according to Gart, the single biggest expense comes from “End-user Operations” — a total of $22,693 over a five-year period. (As an exercise to the reader, how do they know it’s not $22,695 or $22,536? This kind of phony precision looks impressive, but what does it mean?)

If you look at Gartner’s breakdown of this monstrous expense, you’ll find that more than $3,000 goes to “Data Management.”

This translates, I suspect, to filing, which translates to filing paper, which translates to doing your job.
Another $3,400 goes to “Application Development.” Given that without a PC the same people would be developing manual ways of doing the same chores, this also translates to doing your job.

Gartner assigns $6,700 to formal and casual learning — about $1,350 per year. But isn’t this actually time invested in learning to be more productive?

About $7,000 goes to the “Futz Factor,” which I guess means fiddling around making things work right. Without a PC, this time (50 hours per year) would probably be spent sharpening pencils, rearranging the furniture, and otherwise fiddling around. People are like that, with or without computers.

My absolute favorite expense: $1,500 over five years in supplies. Are we talking about the paper needed to print out memos and spreadsheets? Without computers we would still use the paper. Yes, we use more with computers, but this still translates to doing your job.

So in total, nearly $8,000 of the $23,000 goes to doing your job, a lesser amount goes to learning how to do your job better, and about $7,000 represents truly wasted time. My, how problems diminish when you look at them more closely.

Here’s the problem: Gartner has a point, and the point is that we can all improve the ways in which we manage PCs. Gee, what a surprise. Just like everyone else, we should be expected to do a better job next year than we did this year.

Because Gartner is so influential, we’re all going to be hearing about the huge burden we’re imposing on our employers with this life-draining technology. After all, who will our executives believe, The Gartner Group or their own employees?

The definition of an expert here in Minnesota is “a guy from the East Coast with slides.” So I’m expecting Gartner to win without even a chance to debate the issues. Never mind that no employee accustomed to having a PC on the desk would ever give it up. After all, what do they know?

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