Paul Holding, solutions architect at Ripley Solutions, explores the keys to effective obsolescence management for IT leaders
According to a study by IHS Markit, the average age of a vehicle on the road in the US is now 12.1 years old. Car lifespans may be increasing but, as they get older, when is the right time to replace parts or even the whole car? Weighing up these options can be a challenge in our personal lives, and, for businesses, the need to proactively plan is critical if unscheduled downtime is to be avoided.
Technology rarely lasts forever — critical components such as batteries, sensors and other components will degrade over time. To combat this, some hardware and software vendors have end-of-life policies for products, outlining when technology will reach the end of its intended lifespan. Businesses can then invest in newer, upgraded models to continue production.
While upgrades are easy to access, we often find that businesses want to stick to what they know — just like how you might be more likely to use your current phone for a bit longer because you know how to use it, even though the battery life is a lot shorter than it once was. However, if that equipment breaks down, it’s not always easy to find replacement parts, particularly when manufacturers discontinue a product and its parts or no longer provide security and maintenance services.
The impact of obsolescence
Technology can operate beyond its stated lifespan, but if businesses use the technology after this point, they must consider how it will impact daily operations, especially in more complex IT systems. Once a part becomes obsolete, maintenance costs and total cost of ownership will increase as replacement components become harder to source.
Using obsolete equipment also increases the risk of unplanned downtime and cyber attacks. If important IT or operational equipment breaks down unexpectedly, it can lead to costly downtime where businesses may struggle to find support quickly. Additionally, if older IT equipment is no longer protected by manufacturers, hackers could exploit the vulnerability, infecting computers with malware.
Equipment also rarely works in isolation — one piece of faulty equipment will have knock-on effects on the rest of operations. Similarly, when upgrading older equipment, businesses might need to upgrade other systems to ensure all equipment is compatible.
Obsolescence will always be a by-product of continuous technological advances. The best way to improve cyber security and reduce downtime risks is to prepare effectively and take proactive steps to manage obsolescence. With a proactive obsolescence management plan in place, such as a cloud-first approach, businesses can track the lifespan of products. This ensures that IT and operational technology are always protected, improving productivity and reducing costs.
To plan for the future, mid-size businesses should carry out an assessment of current infrastructure to understand the components of the IT and operational technology landscape and how these systems interact. Vendors will often publish end-of-life dates for hardware and software at least twelve months in advance. IT managers should look at how much they already spend on maintenance and whether downtime has occurred before.
Understanding the risks can also help businesses make more informed decisions about their equipment. Businesses should consider how the failure of a hardware or software component will impact operations, costs and reputation, and whether the equipment is compatible with the rest of the system. Additionally, if the equipment is very old, it could be possible that the only people trained on how to maintain the equipment have left the business, making it more difficult to fix an unexpected break down.
Once businesses understand this, they can mitigate the risks. IT and operational equipment rarely work in isolation, so businesses should always be aware of how a change in one area will impact the rest of the infrastructure.
Upgrades can be costly, so businesses should not assume that they have to invest in new equipment every time a component reaches the end of its lifespan. By assessing the role of the component and its availability, businesses can choose whether to purchase replacement parts in advance so they can repair the system or if they replace it in the future.
Effective obsolescence management can be a full-time job, requiring careful consideration to ensure all parts operate effectively. Mid-size businesses can use dedicated IT resources to ensure they have greater awareness about the lifespan of their hardware and software. Complex IT systems found in mid-size businesses can make obsolescence management more challenging as there are more components to consider. Businesses should focus on maintaining accurate data on equipment lifespan, availability of parts and software updates that protect cyber security. These firms can also benefit from working with a specialist, that has the expertise in IT and operation technology to develop successful obsolescence management and digital transformation strategies.
Once cars hit a certain age and need regular repairs, often you have time to choose whether to mend or replace it. Unfortunately, if a part breaks for a business, this can cause downtime and drastically increase costs. Incorporating obsolescence management into maintenance plans enables companies to anticipate breakdowns, limit downtime and reduce repair costs.
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