CIOs and IT leaders approaching their next PC technology refresh had better do some serious preparation. Technology refreshes\u2014when enterprises replace one-third to one-quarter of their PC fleets each year on a rolling basis\u2014have become pretty routine in recent years. But several factors are coming together right now to make refresh decisions more complicated and more fraught with risk, says Bruce Michelson, Hewlett-Packard\u2019s national lifecycle manager. \u201cThis refresh is kind of a perfect storm,\u201d says Michelson, who travels to HP\u2019s Fortune 500 customers to study and share best practices regarding PC lifecycles. \nThink of the factors affecting your next refresh as simultaneous storm fronts bearing names like Consumer IT and Virtualization. (It almost goes without saying that Microsoft Vista upgrade plans, if you have them, will factor into this refresh cycle.) \nWhat\u2019s more, your technology refresh plans need to keep up with the pace of innovation at your business, says Michelson. This is a new challenge for IT. If your company is doing innovative work with PDAs, for example, the refresh plan must be broadened to include mobile devices. Otherwise, you could make short-sighted choices regarding your desktop PCs. \n\u201cIf you look at [your next refresh] the same way you did 12 months ago, you\u2019re missing a chance to embrace manageability and innovation,\u201d he says. Michelson, an expert on total cost of ownership and planning issues, recently authored the book Closed Loop Lifecycle Planning (Addison-Wesley Professional). Here\u2019s his advice on the five fronts of the perfect storm that IT teams should expect in their next technology refresh. \n\n1. Manageability Tools\nBuilt-in manageability tools have become commonplace. \u201cThe chip manufacturers are embedding intelligent manageability in their chips. The PC makers are embedding manageability and security into their products,\u201d Michelson says. \u201cThe IT community now has to pick strategies. You sure didn\u2019t have to make those choices last year.\u201d CIOs must consider their manageability tools strategy carefully to make sure they don\u2019t start with one vendor\u2019s tools, then have to move to another in 18 months. \nFor example, do you encrypt all of your laptops, or some of them? Do you use an encryption tool from the notebook vendor or one from a third-party vendor? Do you want a tracking tool (for GPS location) in case the notebook gets lost? And, how will you handle patch management on the notebooks? This last question could overlap with your ITIL plans. \n\n2. Virtualization\nVirtualization changes your PC math. For CIOs who are considering virtualized desktop PCs\u2014where end user applications live on a virtual machine image on a server instead of on the user\u2019s PC hard drive\u2014the decisions should be made before the next refresh. Because virtualization can use simpler, cheaper thin-client machines, it significantly affects how many full-strength PCs you need. \n\n3. Consumer Technology\nConsumer IT has invaded, and it\u2019s here to stay. As the line between home and work PCs has blurred, CIOs face new expectations about where and how users want to access work applications. \u201cCIOs are hearing requests like, \u2019Why don\u2019t you IT folks webify the app so I can use it from my home office?\u2019\u201d Michelson says. \u201cIf you don\u2019t tell the home users what they\u2019re allowed [to access from outside the office], you\u2019ll end up managing devices that you never planned on.\u201d Give them the right machines during this refresh cycle, and you can keep a grip on security and management. \nOn the bright side, tech-savvy end users doing their own IT tasks are saving some CIOs money. For example, some HP customers have moved to what Michelson calls \u201ctouchless laptop deployment.\u201d Before, a team like a sales department received new notebooks at a group meeting, and IT staff helped everyone through the setup process. Now, however, some companies are shipping notebooks to sales employees directly from the manufacturer. Michelson estimates this saves an enterprise about $100 every time a notebook is set up by the end user, without help or calls to IT. \u201cThe management tools are so mature by now. It\u2019s step-by-step for the end user. It wasn\u2019t that way two years ago,\u201d he says. \n\n4. Mobile Devices\nMobile devices pose new opportunities and risks. They have become so prevalent and so critical to employees that they must be part of your refresh decision. \u201cDo you really need as many laptops? Or do you need wireless PDAs instead?\u201d Michelson says. \u201cDo you have a true refresh cycle for handheld devices? Think of them as little PCs because they can access the same information.\u201d \n\n5. Unofficial Applications\nUsers load more and more of their own applications. Your end users may load a Web-based app that\u2019s free to consumers but could leave your company on the hook for $200 to $400 in licensing fees for corporate use. This next refresh is an excellent time to get the number of software manufacturers and titles within your fleet under control. When visiting HP customers, Michelson asks them how many software manufacturers and titles they have, then bets a box of Krispy Kreme donuts that the number is higher. \u201cSo far, I haven\u2019t lost a bet,\u201d he says. \n\nClosing Tip: CRTs\nTake a long, hard look at your cathode-ray tube monitors. Your next refresh is an opportune time to make the move to flat-panel displays instead of acquiring even more CRTs. Not only will you save on desk space and power bills but most likely on disposal costs too. Some 26 states have laws pending that, if passed, will make disposing of those bulky CRTs more expensive. Do the whole job now or face an unpleasant moment of truth later.